RE: letters (pt 2)

i really do think that it’s really cool that people feel comfortable enough with me to write to me. i know what that takes & i feel incredibly lucky.

in addition to responding to a few letters this week, i wanted to share some people’s writing. people are saying important things in these letters, & i think there ought to be a few more people thinking about them.

thanks for writing.


“i changed myself” - r.d.

dear r.a.,

i’m glad we share an appreciation for thoughtful people. clearly you are one such person - for real - damn - i’m hustling to keep up with all your thoughts. thanks for sharing them. here are some of mine, as brought about by some of yours. i tried to not edit too much (but i did a little after the fact because neurotic), just to do some free writing.

i don’t know if any of these things are true, i just know they’re true for me.

the world & how it sucks
i call that “truman show syndrome” - the belief that things around you are so uniquely & coincidentally terrible that the only possible explanation is that everyone around you is working together & all of the buildings are made of cardboard & everything is set up to test how much misery you can handle. but the buildings aren’t cardboard & your mom is in a truman show of her own. so make sure she knows that you’re real. idk.

yeah, i read once that we see 10,000 faces of strangers every year, so that’s a lot of potential dream characters. 
i think about this kind of thing a lot— the world is enormous, & we experience tiny, tiny, fractional amounts of all there is to experience. we have no clues as to what we’re supposed to be doing…so why is it that we spend our time doing the things that we do? what if all of those people who populate our dreams are the people we’re supposed to meet? & who’s deciding / divining that?

another fun thing to think about with dreams— my brother was explaining to me the other day the idea that dreams are caused by hyper-activity of the part of our brain that interpret sensory experience. in real life, when we smell cinnamon rolls, we draw the conclusion that there must be cinnamon rolls near us. in our dreams, when we smell cinnamon rolls, we create a familiar world in which cinnamon rolls exist, like our grandmother’s kitchen or an airport cinabon. once inside the world, the dreams take on a plot of their own.
i don’t really know how much explanation this offers when it comes to interpreting dreams, but it’s fun to think about that difference as being the only line between sleeping dreams & waking reality.
i have a friend who dreams at least three times a night, & remembers them with stunning clarity. she creates entire universes in her head while she sleeps. what if she could control & choose that hyper-reaction to experience? what if she could create & live in those worlds all the time, the way she does when she sleeps? it would become her reality. idk.

understanding people
beyond just something we’re capable of, i think it’s our responsibility as humans to try our hardest to understand other people & all of the wonderful, terrible, insane, mundane things they do. after all, they are a part of us, & we are born of the same ideas & made of the same shit. 
i have a fundamental belief that everyone is almost always doing what they consider to be the good & right & true. but you’re right, that’s incredibly complicated when it comes to people who murder & rape other people, because in my head, i don’t know what would ever make that okay. but if they can make it okay in their own heads, then they must be operating under a different value system & deriving their sense of goodness from other things. what right am i given to project my morality onto them, & to what extent?

i almost always retreat to cliche: i think we should always do the most good for the most people, regardless of if those people are me or you or the murderer or the victim.
but i act in my own interest, on behalf of my own happiness, all the time. i work to make money for myself & always take what i feel like is owed to me. even if that’s not harming anyone else, it’s not doing the most good for the most people - it’s doing the most good for me. so what really pulls the needle of my moral compass? idk.

nothing gold can stay -
respect, for appreciating the depth of the reference & not just the source!
i’m with you, & this is the same struggle that they have in the book, but you’re forgetting that the night - when nothing is gold - is the necessary step between the golden dusk & the golden dawn. trying to keep things perpetually gold is a fool’s errand. we can try our hardest to stay forever golden, but from everything i’ve experienced, it usually goes like this: gold will come, gold will go, & gold will come again. idk.

stay golden, though, seriously. you can stay. i know that.


“it’s not so much pessimism as it is a scarily realistic view of how rare it is to be extraordinary at something.” - h.l.

“i am a terrible person. you are a terrible person…what makes someone a terrible human being?” - e.l.

dear o.l.,

i’m sorry you couldn’t make it out to this tour! that’s how these things go. 

i’m glad for all of the friends that you’ve made, though, & that we get to be a part of that story.

i’m also stoked to hear about your school’s book! clearly they have excellent taste - your writing is wonderful. we’ll get to that in a minute.

i’m also an enormous slam poetry fan. i’ve been going to a weekly slam in la & it’s one of the best parts of my week, every week. it’s an open mic, but very well attended every week, which creates an amazing combination of experienced, talented, trained poets & people who are stepping up for the first time to share their stories. i’m not sure which i like more. the professionals are fun because my brain has to race to keep up with all of the wordplay & complicated ideas & blurred pictures of humanity that they paint. but the nervous, shivering, first-timers often burn red with the fire of genuine emotion, telling stories so hopelessly authentic that it sounds like they’re reading from a diary. because often they are. i’m not sure if you regularly attend slams, or if they even exist in many places outside of huge urban areas, but i would recommend you go. & perform.

i’ve never heard “the future,” so i’ll check it out! my favorite is anis mojgani. if you’ve never experienced him before, try  “direct orders,” “for those who can still ride in airplanes,” & “shake the dust.”

thank you so much for sharing your poetry with me. you truly are a wonderful writer. inventive & interesting, your pacing is excellent, i really, really enjoyed reading all of your poems.

may neither of us ever go blind to joy again.


to believe in.

“it’s not like i’m lonely.”

“i know,” jason said.

“because i’m definitely not.”

“i know,” jason said.

“it’s just that these people are all so…so empty. you know? like i feel like they barely even exist. their skin is just atoms reflecting light, if you actually tried to touch them, you’d just go right through. they’re all surface. everyone here.”

“i know,” jason said.

“you always know.”

“i know,” jason said.

after three trains, two buses, & one massive headache, she stumbled back into her apartment. dropping all that she carried, she felt her way to the bathroom, flipped on the light, & nearly had a heart attack.


“i’m sorry,” cindy said.

she took a moment to catch her breath. “it’s fine, i just wish you wouldn’t stand right behind me in the mirror like that. do you have any idea what that’s like for me?”

“i’m sorry,” cindy said.

“no, no, don’t be. i shouldn’t be getting mad at you. i’m just in a bad mood. today was…well, it was awful. again. i don’t think anybody there appreciates me, or understands me, or feels any sort of sympathy for anything at all, really. i can always hear them talking, criticizing everything, reducing people to what they wear or where they eat lunch. it’s like they don’t feel anything at all.”

“i’m sorry,” cindy said.

“it’s alright. that’s not your fault. what i really need is a drink.”

cindy smiled.

“can i get you anything to drink?” the waitress asked.

“yeah, i guess can we get a couple coffees?”

“is there someone else coming?” the waitress asked.

“nope, just us.”

“right…alright, well i’ll grab you a couple waters then,” & she floated away.

“i think the problem is that nobody likes to talk about ideas. all anybody listens to is bullshit. they just care about what they’re told to care about by people who want them to be quiet & stupid. & nobody wants to reach & nobody wants to think & so nobody talks about ideas. so i’ve got no one to talk to. except you, of course.”

“i know,” jason said.

“like, look around this place. i bet half of these people are checking twitter, trying to find some vapid & pointless thing that kim kardashian said to get pissed off about. & the other half are checking instragram, trying to decide if they should like their own picture so they can trick themselves into feeling more self-important.”

“i know,” jason said.

“at least video games, there’s some engagement. you’re actively doing something, rather than just being passively projected onto. there’s skill & effort & life involved.”

“i know,” jason said.

he stood up. “fuck this place. let’s go do something.”

“see, this is what i’m talking about,” she said, holding up the magazine between sips of a cheap strawberry-sugar-alcohol. “look at what kim kardashian said. it’s emotionless. & that’s fine, she’s allowed to say whatever she wants, but this is where the women at work are getting their sense of right & wrong. they have some false sense of entitlement from being on the inside & so they shun everything that’s on the outside, & it makes them completely emotionless. no one feels anymore. except you, of course.”

“i’m sorry,” cindy said & she took a shot.

“i know you are, but you’re not a part of the problem,” she said, & she took a shot.

“i’m sorry,” cindy said.

“god, stop saying that! sometimes when i talk to you, it honestly feels like you’re not even there. like i’m just talking to myself. or worse, like i’m just talking to a mirror,” & she took a shot.

“i’m sorry,” cindy said, & she took a shot.

“it’s whatever. let’s go do something.”

& cindy said nothing, she just left.

“i guess i just feel sometimes like maybe i’m the one that’s not here. like i’m the part that’s fake,  & they’re all real, & that’s why they can see each other but they can’t see me,” & he took an enormous swing.

“i know,” jason said.

“i know that you know! say something that means something, don’t just repeat yourself like that! god, it’s like you’re my fucking echo,” & a swing & a miss.

& jason said nothing, he just left.

she followed cindy to the end of the trail & beyond.

“cindy, don’t be like this. you don’t have to be so dramatic! don’t run into that—” she yelled, but it was too late.

“i’m sorry,” cindy said.

he followed jason across the entire field & beyond.

“jason, turn around. quit being ridiculous, i can barely see you anymore! you’re not going to be able to—” he shouted, but it was too late.

“i know,” jason said.

he sent himself flying off the dock & didn’t even have time to look down.

she crashed into the water & it knocked the air out of her lungs.

as he came up for air, he left what he carried beneath the surface.

as she came up for air, they collided.

they frantically scrambled to find what they were looking for,

but all they could find was each other.

“i’m sorry,” she said.

“i know,” he said.

update from the live forever tour.

it has taken three weeks but i think i’ve finally remembered how to be on tour.

for those who have never been—
you have to get used to leaving parts of you behind every where you go & picking up new parts in places you weren’t expecting. 
you have to get used to never knowing where you are.
you have to get used to spending most of your time waiting for something else to happen.
you have to get used to saying hello to people you kind of remember & saying goodbye to people you wish you didn’t have to.

so basically, it’s like life. 
just in a lot of different places in a short period of time. 
& once a day you get to play rock music.

chicago was a real life-shaker & reminded me why i love doing this. a great room full of great people & some old friends said the live show sounded better than it’s ever sounded before. saw some people i didn’t think i’d ever see again & they were excited, nobody was disappointed, everything was golden. some people got too drunk & a couple of us ended up searching residential neighborhoods until four am for a lost friend, but those stories will be fun to tell someday. 
pontiac was cool too. pontiac is always great. they’re used to us there but they still really get down like it’s the first time every time. some shit went haywire during the show, because that’s what always happens, but it came together alright. it always does.
milwaukee was new & fun. hit a weird little emotional low before the show & found myself behind the venue, breaking bottles & trying to catch fireflies with grant & some girl i don’t really know. small show but the people there made it really count. it felt like it really mattered. i left the show completely buzzing, digging life. that’s what music does sometimes.

you have to find an interesting balance of energy when you’re living on the dotted yellow tight rope. there’s a duality to it. you go from high energy to no energy immediately after a show. it’s careful preparation for complete chaos.

feels like we’ve got a perfect balance of shows on this tour. big & small, old & new. 
the cities we’ve done before are the biggest shows we’ve ever done there. onward & upward.
the cities we’ve never done are smaller, but feel new. we’re throwing it out & they’re sending it right back.

akron, ohio was like that. it was a whole different planet to me. spent a few hours before the show walking around a huge bridge & talking to my mom on the phone. i guess i can never tell if good shows have more to do with what’s happening around me or what’s happening inside me, but that was definitely a great show. 
buffalo was wild too. i don’t know why i even get nervous about those shows anymore - buffalo always brings the best energy.
toronto is a show stopper. the lights were wild & the whole room had an amazing vibe. mayhem. we always end up going a little bit too crazy in toronto. i inevitably end up by myself on some street at four am, surveying a foreign street & feeling like a stranger inside & out.

while i was on stage in akron i had a really cool moment of realization. i was watching people sing one of our songs back to us, & i realized that they weren’t mine anymore. the songs now belonged so much less to us, who brought them into existence, & belonged more to the people who were now giving them life.

nyc is always a thousand different things at the same time. i get nervous & stress terribly, & grant says “it’s just like any other show, just with worse parking.” it was our biggest nyc headliner ever. in fact, it was dangerously close to being the biggest nyc show we’ve ever played overall. it all came together. the stars aligned. all the suits, all the friends, lucas came & got some of the wild applause he deserves every day of his life.

it was the most anxious i’ve been in a long time, & that got me thinking about the nature of risk-taking. when i sit in my room in north hollywood, i’m completely content, comfortable, & hardly ever nervous. nothing could ever go as wrong as the top 50 things that could have gone wrong in new york city. but nothing could ever go that right, either. that kind of resolve can only come from a tremendous amount of tension. that kind of high only exists outside your front door.

i guess i’m learning to love being nervous.

philly felt amazing. i got to spend most of the day with my brothers & friends, checking out some classic american history. we’re a prideful country. i wonder what that’s worth. then the show was the tightest one we’ve played yet. lucas came out & i got so stoked that at the end i nearly tackled him to the ground. there’s a great photo of it.
boston, massachusetts never fails to remind me why it’s the best city on earth. we played the middle east for the first time & i already want to go back.
hamden, ct was in a basement. it was loud & people were singing & we just went out & got after it. afterwards william & i did the ALS challenge in our underwear in front of a large group of people. occasionally my brain will freeze moments into snapshots & i’ll remember how ridiculous some of this is.

girl asked me last night where our songs came from. it’s a cool way to phrase that question. i like thinking about them existing somewhere else before they ever became ours. i don’t know from where we’re borrowing these stories & notes but i know they’re not coming from nowhere. i didn’t have an answer so i quoted leonard cohen to her. 
“if i knew where the songs came from, i would go there more often.”

vienna, va was two days of madness. “javapalooza,” we called it. they have a switch in the green room that you can flip & they’ll just bring you whiskey. “the whiskey switch.” it’s dangerous. on the second night, we all switched up our sets like crazy, & nick thomas played a bunch of deeper spill canvas cuts, & william even played “down & out” by the academy is… what a cool show it was to be a part of.
pittsburgh was in this enormous cave of a room, which is a pretty cool way to feel like a rockstar pretty quick. “reunion,” this new song we’re playing, finally felt right, for the first time. it takes a while to get one like that right, but when it’s the right room & the right lights & the right people around you, it just takes. it was a song about feeling lonely. i like opening my eyes after a song like that to realize that i’m not alone.
columbus was my last before the end of this first half. great energy in the room. what a show. they surround you with people in that room. everywhere i went, i was reminded by how many people were around me, smiling.

& that’s as good as it gets.
more later.

RE: letters

when we go on tour & i get to meet people, i receive a lot of letters. you can read about it here, in a blog i wrote 18 months ago:

recently, i assume as the result of me putting so many of my thoughts online, the letters have undergone an interesting evolution. many are now short stories, samples of writing, or poetry. many more are people going on explorations into their own emotional psyche & documenting their findings to me. it’s really exciting to read, & makes me feel like we’re all doing something really cool here. if people are thinking harder & diving deeper, i think we’re on the right track.

however, given the time constraints of a touring / working / writing / living lifestyle, it becomes difficult to reply to all of them. i read every letter i receive & i used to try to just tweet everyone back a quick message of thanks, but that feels vapid.

so instead, i’ve decided to try something different — i’ve taken a few letters i received that allowed serious opportunity for response, & decided to publicly post the responses. names are abbreviated, details are shrouded in vagueness.

thanks for writing, everyone.


dear h.b.

i’ll allow your visual dissonance, but if it’s all the same to you, i’d like nothing to do with your “unexplainable order” & instead appreciate the delightful chaos of a life post-caps.

thank you for your kind words about stories in the dark. sounds like you’re having the same experience i am, becoming the stories that we fell in love with as children. i suppose now we’re tasked with telling our own & immortalizing the characters of our lives in them. sounds like you’re well on your way.

i’m so delighted that you were so happy & busy in your college experience. i see people take to that dramatic lifestyle change in a bunch of different ways, & it sounds like you took to it really, really well. never fear that “pang” of homesickness, it keeps you grounded in where you came from. i’m glad you could find comfort in the fact that even me, the most thick-skinned, amazingly-tough, emotionally-stable person in the world (that’s a joke, i cry lots), fought the same battle. i’m all too familiar with it, & now that i live across the country from my family, it’s almost a constant. & it’s a real tricky little war, right? i want to be there but i don’t want to not be here— i want to be different but i don’t want anything to change.

as always, i’m glad the right song came at the right moment. it has been my experience that it almost always does. (i’m even more excited that it was one of our songs!)

obsession with happiness is an interesting idea. i think it functions on a more macro level than a lot of the obsessions that i was thinking about when i asked the question. the list that i ultimately decided on as the five major american addictions were: addiction to sex / relationships, addiction to career / money, addiction to drugs / alcohol, addiction to religion, & addiction to self. but those are all just ways of getting to happiness. maybe that is what we’re all addicted to.

i also think you make a great point about obsessions & addictions being nice ways to live. we don’t have to treat “addiction” like it’s a dirty word, because not all addictions are net negatives in people’s lives. in fact, probably most things that people spend most of their time doing are actually great for them. if you’re addicted to being happy, keep on, i say, that’s a nice way to live.

but i will tell you what i think is the one problem with your acceptance of my obsession with everyone loving me. while it’s a nice motivator, it requires external validation. it means that in order for me to really be happy, i have to rely on things that i can’t control. which is a pretty easy way to trap yourself in an addiction.

i’ll offer a compromise: i’ll keep trying to please everyone & i’ll try to retain all of the best parts of that: compassion & thoughtfulness, but i’ll love the attempt, not the result.

i can’t wait to read your story. thank you so much for thinking, thank you for sharing, thank you for being a character in the story of my life. love you. until next time,


dear c.b.

you’re exactly right. fuck you, robin. you never deserved ted mosby. i’ll take your final play of the playbook over barney’s any day.

i think step three is my favorite one. at least my favorite one on the first page. i will say this, though: i feel myself to be more of a part of that revolutionary generation than a catalyst of it. i do feel it happening, though, & i’m glad you do too. all anybody ever wants is to be part of a larger community, & i’m happy to be out there with you, fighting on the frontlines.

hey, step seven is happening right now. THIS IS A BLOG!!

i read the last page of your letter approximately one thousand times. it must be a part of being a human, to feel human & then feel bad about feeling human. thank you for making that okay & loving me anyway. thank you for caring & understanding what i want to be a part of & being a part of it with me. thank you for all you do for me & for the people around you.

let us continue to revolt. let us continue to rise. may this tidal wave continue to crash.
please never stop writing.


dear k.d.

thank you so much for following us for as long as you have, seeing us as many times as you have, & still bringing so much life & excitement to every show. i’m floored by the idea of someone coming to one single show, so knowing that you’ve been to as many as you have & keep coming back makes me feel over the moon. i’m sorry i’ve never had the opportunity to hear your name in person - i’m so happy to be introduced to you in ink.

to answer your question, i think i’m always swinging through different mental states of clarity & confusion, inspiration & complete disinterest. i couldn’t get off stage & then immediately write a blog post or a song, & sometimes i’ll go weeks at a time without wanting to create anything. 

however, i think i’m getting better at training myself to always be on the ready by just noticing more things & asking better questions. the best thinkers, writers, & creators i know are plagued with an insatiable curiosity. i think anybody can feel that, if they just strive to ask better questions & really give a shit about the answers.

it excites me to hear that you’re doing that kind of thinking. i can confidently give you this spoiler alert: things will be radically different in your life in 10 years. almost everything. the people in your life, the things you care about, the way that you spend your time will be completely different when you’re 26. how fantastic is that.

(side note: if you want a real, quick, amazing look at the difference that 10 years makes in a life, go see “boyhood.” it will yank your head backwards & drastically widen your perspective. you will see the whole picture & appreciate how beautiful it is.)

i love all of the questions you’re asking. here are some answers: 

i think….

…cynicism can inject itself anywhere, so it’s possible for self-reflection to be humbling & self-defeating, but it doesn’t have to be. 
…relationships are always equal parts scary & exciting, equal parts wonderful & terrible, but they are truly the best thing that we do.
…one headlight by the wallflowers is the best thing to happen to anyone ever, or perhaps the second best, only to “you get what you give” by the new radicals.

now. what do you think?
thank you for being you.


dear k.s.

i still have that bookmark. i just finished “on the road” by jack keruoac (ever read it?) & your bookmark made the whole journey with me.

keep writing. i understand that it’s really, really hard sometimes. creativity is like that.

i think about it like this: at some point, creativity becomes terminally self-defeating & that’s the only limit to each & every person’s personal genius. that’s the definition of giving up, right? yourself convincing yourself that it isn’t good enough? yourself defeating yourself?
people constantly decry external factors for making them give up, but you have to remember who it is that’s being convinced.

keep writing. you have genius in you. 
thank you for everything.


the last song that stopped me.

i felt like writing about music, the way i hear it, & the things it says to me. 
i like having my rhythm interrupted especially when it’s good art that’s doing it.
i dove into the last song that did that to me:

time forgot - bright eyes.

the first song on conor oberst’s return to music reads like a story of the journey that brought him back to making an album. on a wider level, it reads like the story of a kid who can’t figure out if he wants to live removed from everyone else or right in the middle of everyone else. which i think is pretty human. or at least connects to me. because i love everyone & i hate everyone. you know?

at first it’s a narrative. almost straight forward: he’s growing a beard in a “town that time forgot.” somewhere so removed from the beaten path that he doesn’t have to worry about the overwhelming problems that the world faces because the march of culture has literally left this town behind. he seems content with his decision, happy to spend time alone in a beautiful place, happy to no longer be interrupted by the bullshit that was interrupting him before. i love that idea. i obsess over the idea of a place like that & i spend about half of my time wanting to go to that place.

but he starts to miss the world. because we all would.

he starts to long for it & wonder if he still has a place in it. the problem with trying to forget everything is that usually everything forgets you a hell of a lot quicker. i think the fulcrum of his decision is best captured by a line in the 2nd verse: 
some loneliness is acceptable / 
some’s just outright mean.

to a certain extent, you can exist without the system. but if you find yourself wanting for disruption, sometimes you need to run back to the things that drove you out. ultimately concluding that it’s time to return to the world, he questions whether or not he’s wanted by it, or whether that’s just a delusion. his decision seems motivated by the understanding that he’s temporary, the urgency that uninfinite time forces on us:
though so far i have cheated death,
i know one day i’ll get caught,
just living.

so he boards a train to go back. he describes his journey as “taking his memories back” to “make up for time that [he] had lost.” rather than trailing back into a soft verse, a nervous reentry, the final section is bombastic & excited & hopeful. it’s full of wonder, like he’s re-discovering the potential of a place he once loved. 

it’s written like a kid who has spent enough time living without to understand the amazing possibility of living within. get your trumpet, get your drum. the world exists & we’re here to make some music in it.

when nobody shows up.

i sometimes wonder what would happen if we played a rock show & nobody came.

(came as in, nobody showed up, you sickos)

like, if we were to go on stage in portland, austin, tampa, or buffalo (total a coincidence that i happened to come up with the four cities that are lagging behind in ticket sales for our upcoming tour) & the floor was completely empty except for the bartender & the sound guy who keep giving us the “this happens all the time in buffalo” look. 

jordan decides to take 3 extra long solos in the spoken part of sanctuary & marcus falls asleep & i wallow in misery from then until eternity.

it’s a branch of the “crippling self-doubt” section of my brain that puts the image in my head, but it finds me at least three times a week, some mornings when i wake up & some nights when i’m falling asleep & sometimes even unconsciously when i’m dreaming. i have no doubt that at one point or another in their career, it haunts every performer. i think probably everyone gets it, actually. nobody wants to throw a party & have nobody show up.

when i even imagine it, i feel miserable. my brain shuts down.

it’s not like we haven’t done it before. at the warehouse in la crosse, wisconsin. november 11, 2010. we loaded our gear through the rain & up 3 flights of stairs to play a show for exactly 0 ticket purchasers. there’s a sign on the wall of the warehouse that details how much debt the venue is in, & we had to play directly to that sign, knowing we were part of the problem. i felt pretty shitty most of that day.

i have no reason to believe that will happen any time soon. tickets for this tour are outpacing every other tour we’ve done, so unless everybody forgets that they bought tickets, we won’t be stuck playing to ourselves, even in buffalo. but i think the more important questions are: why do i care? should it matter whether people show up or not? why is it that even imagining people not showing up makes me miserable?

i make music because i love making music. 

that’s what i tell myself at least, & on the most important levels, it’s true. i get excited about writing songs & i get excited when i listen to them after they’re finished. i love rehearsing & performing those songs with my friends, & i love traveling the country, & in a weird way i love the way that shitty, dirty, dusty venue smell. i like to believe that, even if not a single person listened or cared, now & forever, i would still want to live a life in, for, & through music.

if that’s the case, then why is the buffalo nightmare where no one shows up so much worse than the sold out new york city show? aren’t they both just playing music?

is it audience connection?

an audience is part of the experience & that can’t be understated. art is nothing until an audience gives it life. the purpose of live performance is to, through art, open up a glowing & glorious connection between artist & audience. 

the more people, the stronger the connection - this isn’t always true, but in the case of 0 people vs. 500 people, it definitely is. i want to feel like i’m a part of something, & having an audience proves that it is something. 

but that argument only works in the case of small show vs. big show, which is not the actual question being asking, which is: “why do i feel miserable when no one shows up?” strip away the audience, i’m still playing music & traveling the country with my friends.

connection is important, but doesn’t explain my misery.

is it money?

in thank you for smoking, jason reitman posits that 99% of human motivation is to pay the mortgage. i want to summarily reject that, say there are thousands of things i love more than money & that money isn’t my motivator. i want to say that if money was what i was after, i probably could have done other things that would have made far more than i ever will as a musical artist. i want to say that our generation is a new kind with new values, that we do things because we love doing them, not for money.

but i don’t think that’s all 100% true, for me or for most anyone. i worry we use that candy-painted, usually-hollow rhetoric to misdirect & distract ourselves from the shame we feel about actually, on a deeper level, being addicted to money.

i think below our surface motivation lies a deeper attachment to money & to the things it buys, & that attachment prevents us from doing anything that may endanger our longer term financial security, regardless of what other motivations are at play. we say all is justified in the name of ensuring we have “enough” money, & we tell ourselves that “enough” is just a little more than we have now. that’s why most people place career at the top of their obligations list, & only donate money when they have excess. if we really valued humanity over money, we’d give it all away.

so let me at least say this: i don’t care to be rich, & i don’t write & perform music because i think it’s my best method of getting there, but i am worried that no one will buy my record & i’ll have to pick a different career. i do worry about not having “enough” & i don’t know how much “enough” is. 

but one show won’t dramatically effect my financial security. i might be motivated by money on a more macro level, but it doesn’t explain me being miserable if no one came to a show.

is it validation?

i don’t want to care how many people appreciate what i’m doing, because i’m doing it for me. 

that’s a lie.

with the rush of fear about no one showing up comes a wave of other fears. people will find out, & as a result, they won’t like me. critics won’t like me, venues won’t like me, the bartender from la crosse wisconsin won’t like me, the band won’t like me, friends won’t like me, strangers won’t like me, she won’t like me, no one will ever want to hang out with me or have sex with me ever again, all of these plans & goals that i had for our band & for music & for my future are shattered because all i am & all i will ever be is the guy who played to nobody in buffalo.

then i go on twitter & realize my last tweet only go 29 favorites & so i rush to tweet about pizza or One Direction because i need to be retweeted to be reminded that maybe there’s hope for my life yet. some people would call it “good business,” or “market research,” but i’ve come to call it by its birth name: “addiction to validation.” i’m obsessed with everyone being obsessed with me. i need everybody to love me.

this is why the image of an empty venue shoots crippling terror through me. this is why we think we’re alone if we’re not being contacted by anyone at any particular moment. we’re addicted to ourselves & addicted to each other.

i need to feel validated, & i wish i could stop needing that. i wish i didn’t need everybody to love me. but i do. so now what?

reunion (a song for my early 20s)

it’s so damn good to see you,
how’ve you been?

what kind of car do you drive
how do you feel about the government
shutting down?
i guess it’s fine.
i guess i’m fine.

& we all look so damn happy,
even though we’re all so lonely,
and we’re standing close together
cause we think that it’s the only
way to feel
like we’re not alone.
like we’re not alone.

so we raise our glass,
pretend we’re fine,
apologize a million times,
we drink ‘til we,
can’t feel ourselves at all.

& maybe then,
once we’re 10 drinks deep,
we’ll finally say some things we mean,
like, “oh god,
i’m so lonely,”
but at least i’m not alone.

alyssa’s getting married,
& alexa got engaged,
& i think tyler’s got a ring inside his pocket
just in case.

i guess some people grow up fast,
i guess some people never change,
i guess some people just become themselves a little more with every day.

& we all look so damn happy,
even though we’re all so lonely,
and we’re standing close together
cause we think that it’s the only
way to feel
like we’re not alone.
cause we’re not alone.

so we raise our glass,
pretend we’re fine,
apologize a million times,
we drink ‘til we,
can’t feel ourselves at all.

& maybe then, 
once we’re 10 drinks deep,
we’ll finally say some things we mean,
like, “oh god,
i’m so lonely,”
but at least i’m not alone.

i guess some people grow up fast,
i guess some people never change,
i wonder if in 10 years, will i still be here the same?

i don’t wanna be lonely.

hear it for the first time this fall:

at least we’re dancing.

decided to try a different kind of story, a different kind of writing, & a different kind of character today. not sure why.——-

at least we’re dancing.

on a day soon when everything is miserable, your instinct will be to go do something you love, to fix it, so you don’t feel terrible anymore. here’s my best piece of advice: fight the urge. don’t do something you love. because you will ruin it.

as it was, heidi & i were in the process of ruining a carnival.

everything was terrible because of the car repair bill & her fourth speeding ticket & the goddamn chicago cubs & all we wanted to do was fix it. so we went to a carnival, because every good romantic movie has a carnival scene & i wanted ours to have one too.

but the lines were too long & the snacks were too expensive & the kids were too loud & the carnival was just too much carnival for us that night.

at the height of our misery, we stood in line for the solar system ferris wheel, all the gondolas made to look like planets & in the center, the sun.

“today is a miserable day,” heidi said.
“we shouldn’t have come here, we’re too miserable,” heidi said.
“days like today, when everything is miserable, we should just avoid each other altogether. never raise an issue, just steer clear. i don’t want to see you like this, and i don’t want you to see me like this,” heidi said.

sometimes with heidi, when i would say nothing at all, i would say the wrong thing.

“yes? really? that’s all you have to say? you’re supposed to want to see me every day!”

“honestly, sam, do you even think this is working?”

it was a complicated question that I don’t think I was supposed to answer honestly.

“i don’t know—”

& she was angry, but i didn’t want her to be.
she wanted to know if it could work.
she asked me if it was working.
just because it’s not working doesn’t mean it’s not supposed to be. i wanted it to work, i just wasn’t doing a very good job. 
but neither of us was winning a fight tonight. because today was a miserable day.

“we’ve got room for 1 more!” called the carnival worker. one of the two seats in the gondola sat open. the other was occupied by an attractive man who might have been from brazil. i could see his accent from 15 feet away.

heidi smiled at me with her tongue between her teeth. 
that smile was the best and worst part about her. 

she spun and raised her hand. “party of one!” she shouted, & they ushered her into the gondola.

i approached the carnival worker alone, hat in hand.

“how many in your party?” he asked, but before i could even answer, his face was overcome with pity.

“boy. wish I could say it was the first time i’d seen that happen. fucking ferris wheels, man.”

I nodded. He nodded to an open gondola, the other seat occupied by an older man. for the first half of my ride, i tried to find the gondola with heidi and, more importantly, her brazilian.

after 5 minutes of fidgeting and silence—

“so she’s sitting somewhere else, huh?”
i stopped fidgeting to look at him. “how’d you know?”
“i just do.”
“it’s been a miserable day.”

he nodded for a few moments. he smiled out the window, then smiled at his watch, then finally smiled at me.

“life is too short for miserable days. my wife told me that,” & he smiled when he said the words my wife. “we could be buried in some dirt somewhere. at least we’re dancing.”


he shared a soft laugh with himself. “i’m sorry, i don’t spend much time around other people, i forget that i have to explain these kind of things. it’s more wisdom from my wife—” another smile. “—in our younger years, she was as a dancer, in a country where there was a lot less glory in the profession. but she loved it. & i was stationed over there & i would go watch her every night, & all of the other dancers would complain, but not her. they would complain about the hours, or complain about the demands of dancing & when i asked her how she felt about it, she would always say the same thing.  she’d say ‘hey! at least i’m dancing!’ so it became something we’d say when the chips didn’t fall right or the money didn’t come in. at least we’re dancing.”

the gondola hung in silence for a moment.

“smart woman, that one.”

“what of your wife?” i asked him. “couldn’t talk her into the carnival? has she gone off and found herself a brazilian as well?”

for the first time in our full rotation of the sun, our eyes locked & we truly saw each other. he smiled, & suddenly he was a million miles away from me & i could the bottom dropping out of my stomach.

“i’m so sorry, I didn’t realize—”

he stopped me. “how could you have known?”

our journey around the sun together continued in silence, until he finally looked back to me.

“she used to love the ferris wheel. that’s all. that’s why i come back. to remember what it was like. that’s all.”

the gondola jolted to a stop. we had made our way around the sun twice & i had barely noticed. we nodded to each other & climbed out.

heidi approached me right away. she had been waiting for me.

“i’m sorry.” 
“i’m sorry.”
“i’m not mad.”
"i’m not either."
"we’re here. that’s what matters, right?"
“right,” i said, & i looked out after the man, walking alone through the dim carnival light.

sadness, excitement, angst, & cause: a blog about my best friend.

my best friend is no longer a part of an amazing thing that we started together,
& it’s reminding me of the soul’s awesome ability to feel a lot of things, all right at the same time.

lucas, the drummer of paradise fears of four and a half years, is going back to school to get a civil engineering degree so he can take to the third world where he feels like he’s needed. 

if you haven’t read it, i strongly suggest his post about it, “sadness, excitement, angst, and cause: a commentary on change” here:

emotions are complex because they almost never occur in singularity.
i’ve had friends lose band members and seen them feel relief, excitement, annoyance, inconvenience, & anger.
me, i was put in the incredibly human position of feeling joyful and devastated, in the same moment, reacting to the same thing.

i couldn’t be more proud or excited for my best friend. lucas is two years younger than me but is such a rapidly evolving human being that he might be 45 by the time i turn 23.
i think we’re all out here looking for truth, and he has some of the purest eyes i’ve ever met. he wants to know what’s going on. he wants to understand why it’s going on.
he wants to know how he feels. he wants to understand why he feels that way. 
and then he wants to understand everyone else around him too.
understanding is the root of compassion.
lucas is the most compassionate person i know.

i’m reminded of four years ago, in a tiny vehicle on the way to a shitty show, when i saw that he had started carrying cigarettes to smoke. i saw his pack, and, being a good friend, threw it away, because cigarettes are a terrible idea. 
he never got mad at me for that, but he probably should have. he told me he liked smoking but if i didn’t, he would do his best to keep it away from me. we could co-exist. i told him i didn’t want him smoking AT ALL. he told me he’d make that decision for himself.
i still think cigarettes are a terrible idea. lucas might say the same thing. but i can guarantee he would never decide someone’s morality for them and throw away their cigarettes, at least not without trying to connect with them about it first. he doesn’t want to judge or decide or rule or conquer - he just wants to understand. compassion.

i’m also so, so unbelievably sad
this is the kind of change that rocks your world, tears away photos of what you thought the future would look like & replaces them with dark, blurry, unknowable futures.
we experienced every emotion, every condition possible together. we drove a hundred thousand miles together. we walked into the living rooms of hundreds of strangers together. we got drunk in five different countries together.
one day after a girl broke up with, lucas drove nine hours so i could drink all day.
one night lucas & i drove the entire length of iowa through the middle of the night, discussing an idea for a book that i hoped to one day write. 
these things are very, very unlikely to ever happen again. the bond that the six of us have built goes beyond my understanding of “friends” or “family”… it’s something in a category of its own. and now i don’t know what it’s going to be.

the final emotion, perhaps the one that struck me with the most gravity, was guilt. lucas turned a mirror around on me and i stood before it without answers. 
my best friend is going to go change the world. he’s running right at the thing that we’re trying so hard to run away from (poverty, change, reality, difference - there’s a lot that we’re afraid of). what the fuck am i doing?
am i helping? am i hurting? what am i building towards? what am i chasing? instead of immersing myself in technology & entertainment & self-obsession & money, what good could i be doing for humans who don’t have the luxury of being able to care about those things, because they weren’t born where i was born, into the body i was born into.

the last time we talked, crowded out onto yet another hotel balcony, lucas told me my job was to keep telling stories. that he would be upset if i stopped telling stories.
so that’s what i’d like to do. some people will read this blog, and i’m excited by that. i want to write songs & stories & blogs & words, but i want them to mean something. more than that, i need them to mean something.
a little self-reflection is wildly important, for anyone who is 1/7,000,0000,000 of the world’s population (that’s all of us).
so i wanted to include something that lucas & i talked a lot about— a couple of questions to ask yourself throughout life to make sure you’re seeing the whole picture as best you can.

i start my day with this—
why do i care about the things that i care about?
why do i have the things that i have, & do i deserve those things more than someone who doesn’t have them?
in ten years, will i be happy about how i spent my time today?
what am i gonna do about it?

i’m still full of a sadness i can’t control, overwhelmed by a pride i can’t explain for a friend i’ll never fully understand.
but i’ll try to. because he taught me to.

so…what are you gonna do about it?