Hell Stevie, I'm twenty-six and I yearn for all of those things now.
|Austin Cleek Writer, Wonderer, Wanderer, and Weirdo
"At thirteen I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers, and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash."
Hell Stevie, I'm twenty-six and I yearn for all of those things now.
I'm sitting at work without a lot to do. I'm the only one here: wedding anniversary trip for one coworker, a deceased relative for another, and who knows where my boss is. That's fine with me. I've spent my morning answering emails and surfing the web. I've also been trying to fix some stuff on a computer that I'm wanting to bring back to life.
Over the last hour I've been looking for my next step from here. In ten days my sister moves to Cornell for graduate school (I couldn't be more proud and excited for her) but I've had to decide whether I wanted to renew the lease on the apartment we share. It's a great place to live and has tons of family history--our mom and two of our aunts lived in the same apartment building throughout the 80s when they attended the same university that we've graduated from. I have a lot of great memories in the place. It's been home for nearly two years.
I've decided that I won't be renewing the lease. First, it's just a space that won't be the same when Jordan, George, and Fred no longer share it with me. Second, I'm 25 and I'm too content to live day in and day out there. I'm afraid that I'll wake up at 30 and still be there. It wouldn't be the worst existence to live out, but it wouldn't be filled with the dose of picaresque life that I'm hoping to have in the next five years.
So, in a couple of weeks I'll be packing my small collection of things that I own and moving out. I have no idea where I'll be going from there. Patrick has offered for me to crash his place in Nashville for awhile or maybe I'll look into snagging a short term in my friend's guesthouse while I work on my visa application for Australia. Regardless, I'm happy that I've decided not to try and hang on to the past year and a half by renewing a lease. It's coming to a close as the three creatures that made it so special move on together towards the northern horizon. North to their next great adventure; Ithaca, New York.
It's not easy letting go. Part of me wants to hang on but I know that I would be grasping for ghosts. The spirit of where I live doesn't belong in the building, it belongs in the bodies of my three favorite roommates. They'll be sorely missed.
I think that a lot of people find happiness for awhile in specific places and get attached to being there. There's nothing wrong with that. I think the problems arise when we fail to realize that it is rarely a physical location that makes us fall in love with that certain place. It's almost always the time that we spent with others there that make us become connected to that local. But when they're gone we inevitably feel the need to try and hang on to the place itself. It's difficult to let go of the hallowed halls of times well spent. We become addicted to the nostalgia it evokes and it begins to trap us there. We can't find freedom in fresh new places because we're so caught up living in the old ones.
I don't want to get trapped in an empty apartment filled up with memories if I could be out making new ones elsewhere. I'll carry the memories with me to the far flung places I travel and revel in them in my mind, not sitting alone in the cobwebbed corners of an old building.
I tend to write what I know to be true, and it has been the quest for truth that has lead me to the victories that I've experienced. In my life, the greatest truths have revealed themselves in the most far-flung places of the earth. I find that it is when I am in quiet expanses that my mind speaks its loudest. In those moments it is wise to not distract myself but to listen to what the deeper me wants for my life. The lonely landscapes are where I can stand up to the societal pressures that I feel, and it is there that I find the strength to tell them to go to hell. Out there, I realize that I am a part of it all, always connected to the nature that surrounds me and I carry that sentiment with me when I return. John Muir once said,
"When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe."
His words were true then and they are true now. We are bound by the connectedness of nature, and in relation to my own work I've found that the very nature of creativity and innovation are bound to the process of making connections. When I think about this I'm reminded of what Steve Jobs said,
"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have."
As a tech guy in the twenty-first century I realize that I’m always connected, but after awhile I find most of my modern connections have become constraints. Those are the moments when I close my computer, turn off my smartphone, and if I'm not in a position to hit the open road, I’ll hit the local trail. Once there, I will spend my day off-the-grid reconnecting with, and reconsidering what is -- my purpose. I go there to explore, and most of the time I am able to discover much needed inspiration which I bring back to my internet connected life.
I would urge that if you go to look for yourself then search in solitude, and in doing so, I’m willing to bet you will find who you are looking for.
Life is back to normal. Sort of. I'm back in Cookeville for awhile. I didn't think things would turn out like this and then it did. Maybe it was in the cards all along but I wasn't holding my hand right. While I've been back I've been teaching programming to kids around the state and it looks like I will continue to for at least another six months. Contract life isn't so bad though. In my spare time I've been taking a lot of extended education classes online, all programming focused. It's been interesting stuff.
As for life itself, it's all good. I've been able to hangout with friends and family that I hadn't seen for four months and it's been nice to darken the doorsteps of my old haunts around here. I've also done a massive amount of skating since I've been back, and went in on a quadcopter with two other friends as a side project to keep things interesting.
Oh and speaking of interesting, Mitchell has gotten the Oculus Rift developer kit so that's been pretty damn cool to mess around with. As another project for the summer, a few of us are going to try and create an Android based multitouch gesture control for maneuvering within virtual environments. Should be a good way to pass some of the dog days.
When I'm not teaching I'm looking forward to getting back in the saddle on my bike, fishing a bunch, and hopefully spending a lot of time out lounging at the local waterfalls.
Anyways, until next time, keep on keeping on.
He looked at the clock and realized it was later than he had thought. Two had come and gone while he had hunched over a laptop but he had nothing to show for it. One line of code at a time had advanced across the screen only to be deleted.
Defeated, he stared off at the wall behind his desk unable to bring himself to undress and lie down. No ground had been gained on his final programming assignment that was due in less than two weeks. He knew that he should surrender for the night and try again in the morning but he was too tired to get up.
He thought back to the old days. Back to when he was younger and he had begged his grandfather to tell him war stories. On the occasions when his Grandpa obliged he had held on to every word. Back then he loved war stories. Now he couldn't think of anything worse.
The downtime between assignments over the past month had been spent looking for a character from one of the old stories, but this one had been different. It had had nothing to do with defeating Hitler and the Nazis. This was about how his grandfather had been able to wear shoes throughout the Great Depression.
Today he had found who he had been looking for and he had cried when it happened. The search was over. The archives revealed that somewhere in Eastern France was the great-grand uncle he never knew. On October 9th of 1918 Edward Tucker had died on the front lines of a foreign war becoming one of that centuries' Lost Generation. Great-grand Uncle Tucker was only 25 when he fell in a French forest half a world away from the Tennessee woods in which he had grown up, and ninety-six years later Edward's 25 year old nephew had been weeping for his uncle that never came home.
This was why his Grandfather had been able to wear shoes as a Tennessee farmer's son during the Great Depression.
Edward's pension was given to his sister's family by the United States government. The money amounted to just enough to afford the one pair of shoes each of her children would receive for the year ahead.
His grandfather had always talked about how grateful he had been for those shoes.
It was half past three when he finally got up and made his way towards bed, but his great-grand uncle was still on his mind. As he laid awake he wondered at the 96 years that had gone by since the Fall of 1918 and he found himself fearful of the years that lay ahead. It was 2014 and yet the war stories had largely remained the same. The planet was still covered in front lines and the youth of the world were still becoming the ghosts of lost generations.
Four members of the 32nd Division 127th Co. B (the Company that Edward Tucker belonged to). This photograph was taken in the Argonne Forest during The Meuse-Argonne Offensive. It is possible that one of these men could have been Pvt. Tucker.
An image of Edward Tucker's great-grand nephew, Austin Cleek, 25 years old.
The final resting place of Pvt. Edward Tucker. Meuse-Argonne American Cemetary, Romagne-Sous-Montfaucon, France.
It's late February in Greenville, South Carolina and the weather couldn't be better. I am still struggling on my quest to master object oriented programming, but I also see exponential progress in my ability. There are five weeks left of my intended time in this place and then I am headed west again. I am going back to Tennessee to be closer to where I came from. I think that Nashville is the next place I will live but for how long I don't know. Maybe for just a few weeks and maybe forever. Who's to say?
Anyways, the Iron Yard has been a great experience, and I have made excellent friends. We've helped each other survive in these trenches through grueling nights of brain teasers. However, I am ready to be finished with school so that I can wander away from organized learning again for awhile. It has its ups and its downs, but I enjoy my freedom. Well I was just checking in and now I am checking back out. Until next time.
Today marks fifteen days into the front-end engineering program at the Iron Yard for the spring semester. In the fourteen days here I can say for sure that I have learned more in two weeks than I did in an entire year of studying at my university. It's been trying, to say the least, but it's been worth it. I love this stuff and it's only getting better as we're starting to swim into the deeper, darker waters of object oriented programming.
With that said, I don't think that the Iron Yard's program is for everyone. It's tough. I mean, it's nearly insane. However, I can definitely say that this guerrilla style of run and gun learning definitely has its advantages to the students that are ready to embrace a life of programming. You just better be sure that this is what you want for yourself before you decide to enroll in this 12 week learning lifestyle.
The benefits definitely outweigh the exhaustion. Beyond learning incredible amounts of code in short periods of time, you also quickly build a sense of camaraderie with the other students that are in the trenches taking grenades with you. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these people continue to play an important role in my life long after the Iron Yard program is over.
But I'm only fifteen days, or 18% through the program. As far as I can tell, it's still an uphill battle for the next few weeks, but it's undoubtedly a war worth waging in my life.
I'll keep writing to you from the front lines.
December crept up on me and caught me by surprise. In doing so I realized the year had slipped away and there was no hope to catch what I thought I had once had a handle on. Now it's whole other story and a new year all over again.
That's the feeling I always have as each one comes to a close and another one opens. I meant to write this at the end of December reflecting on this past one, but now it's over two weeks into 2014.
So what's the most important thing that happened in that block of 365 days?
I got rid of or gave away most of my possessions because I don't want to own anything that I have no need for anymore. I want to get even better at this frugality of possessions this year. In May, I eased myself out of a lot of the fat that I had accrued from living in the same house for over four years, but after six months I realized that I hadn't done enough. I still owned objects that I didn't understand. What do I mean? I mean, I couldn't come up with a good reason why I had allowed some of these things to make the first cut. So after another purge of possessions I am down to the minimal, and strangely enough I'm so much happier for it. (Seriously, I find it hard to convey the sense of freedom I gained from losing possessional weight in life).
Today I'm coming at you from a whole other world all together. I've temporarily moved to Greenville, South Carolina and will be found here nursing a headache for the next 3 to 4 months as I run through The Iron Yard's Front End Engineering program. It's been a crazy new year as I've moved into a pretty awesome apartment provided by the program. The coolest and most enlightening part is that by getting rid of all of my shit last year I was able to painlessly pack up all of my stuff and move it in my car to my new digs in one trip, further reinforcing my purge. I was able to be packed in 20 minutes. Got in my car. Drove away from my old apartment. Gone. No movers. No trailers. No second trips. No headache. Done.
Anyways, I'm going to dedicate myself to writing through this experience as I go forward over the next few months and I'll let you know how it goes in the more technical side of my life.
It was fall in New York when we got there, and you couldn't have asked for it to be any better than that. My first time in the City and as I stepped off of the bus in Manhattan I was blown away by the chaos of people as they swarmed in every direction like ants. Within the hour we were out of the high rises and into the borough of Brooklyn that I would fall in love with before the trip was over. For the next few days we crashed on the couch and floor of my cousin's apartment. Her and her boyfriend were kind enough to lend us their bicycles which allowed Hunter and I to take to the streets and explore Brooklyn as if we were locals. By the time I had peddled twenty miles I felt at home there even if I never found complete security at the hands of the New York traffic. The rest of the time we bummed around the different ethnic neighborhoods of Brooklyn on foot and took in some of the best food I can remember eating. The weather kept incredible temperatures and sun and clouds were overhead the whole time we were there. For Halloween we all dressed up and went to a candle lit motorcycle shop to party until the sun rose. It was the best of time. We hungover on Friday and that afternoon made our way into Manhattan and to the top of the Empire State Building that evening to watch the sunset over the city. On Saturday we said our goodbyes to Amanda, Alex, and the city we had only just begun to love and then we left for the south and our homes. I will definitely be back to see you New York. Sooner rather than later.
I know this was a bit of a boring overview of a trip, but I don't find myself capable of describing it with words that would do justice to such an amazing experience. I was in the right place at the right time, and I'm glad it happened.
I don't know what other people think about or what life really means to them. You can only go on what they would describe in their own words, but life and what it means is more of a feeling than a vocal expression (at least in my experience anyway). How could anyone understand someone else's life without living it for themselves? But that's stupid conjecture because we can't trade places. We're here, inside of our own heads, and the best we can do is try and describe how we feel in here to those that are out there.
So how do I feel? I'll tell you. I feel like a cell. I feel like a tiny part of a giant organism. I feel like a fool, and sometimes when I look in the mirror and think of everyone else it makes me feel crazy. Not bad crazy, just foreign. Day in and day out I move through life in a constant state of wonder that doesn't change. What changes is how I respond to the awareness of my position in life. I seem to swing between moderate states of connection and disconnection. Sometimes I wake up and feel the greatest sense of empowerment and other days I am despondent to say the least. I just can't seem to get over the fact that this is happening. It's happening right here, right now, and it's happening to me. Actually that's what makes it so bizarre, my awareness of the cascade of biochemical events that have to take place for me to even be able to be conscious let alone capable of describing the sense I have of the universe in the moment that I am having it to someone else that has the capacity through their own biochemistry to comprehend what I'm trying to communicate..
I hope I'm wrong, but I feel like most people don't take the time to try and understand how weird this life is. I think a majority of people don't allow themselves the freedom of thought to explore the bizarre nature of our existence. They seem to be most comfortable holding on dearly to the existential constructs that they inherited from their parents and grandparents.
Now that I think about it, I can't blame them. It's weird to step outside of the box that you grew up with and begin to create your own paradigm for trying to understand your existence. Those first few years of shedding yourself of the comfort zone you were raised in are some of the toughest years that I've ever experienced. The constant WTF? moments that I had when I would be thinking or studying about the interactions of chemistry and physics in our universe are some of the most visceral I've ever experienced, but I would never go back to where I was before. I now know for certain that there is nothing that I actually understand. The universe is too big and my brain is too small to make the calculations needed to understand anyway.
So with all of this in mind I'm going out for a skate and a slice of pizza because at this moment that's what makes sense to me.