Posted by: Mark Nielsen | June 12, 2013

Our Clubhouse of Solitude – Now Open for Business

Superman's Fortress of Solitude - hint: my new place does NOT look like this

Superman’s Fortress of Solitude – hint: my new place does NOT look like this. Besides, NO ONE needs a fortress… least of all Superman

I officially moved into my new one-bedroom apartment on Chicago’s Northwest side yesterday, and I’m both grateful and a little scared. It will be the first time I have lived “alone” in almost thirty years.

Here is an exterior shot of the building, in Chicago’s Norwood Park neighborhood on the northwest side, near Harlem and Devon:

The Third Little Pig built his house out of bricks... and moved into the garden/basement flat to live out his life as a confirmed bachelor.

The Third Little Pig built his house out of bricks… and moved into the garden/basement flat to live out his life as a confirmed bachelor.

So as you might expect, I am in a very reflective spiritual state this week, as I seek to understand an exciting new season of my life.

I need to wait to post any indoor shots, as the pre-move empty apartment shots are not very flattering, and the chaotic mess that’s in here now is even worse. More on that chaos in a minute…

I will not be completely alone here, however, as I do get to spend most weekdays in the summertime with my son Graham, who just turned eleven.

The next photo is him, listening to his new iPod, his first ever… thus officially beginning the “I will now ignore Dad” portion of his pre-teen and teen years:

Insert Tween pop song quote for caption HERE: " _____ ." (No Bieber, please.)

Insert Tween pop song quote for caption HERE: ” _____ .” (No Bieber, please.)

I was going to post an AWESOME video of Graham dancing a Just Dance 4 Wii videogame-choreographed dance to Marina & the Diamonds’  Oh No!, one of his first crop of iPod songs. But my blog host is putting tech handcuffs on me, and I don’t have time for a workaround.

Someday Graham will be grateful to be spared the embarrassment of a posted video of him dancing. However, he’ll never know how close he came to becoming the next big internet meme. (In other words, the dance is both cute AND laughable… the perfect Tween moment, where my boy isn’t at all self-conscious about his body, talent, childlike innocence or taste in music.)

Oh, and here’s an odd, tangential item: the short (so far) playlist Graham was actually listening to at this moment in the car.

I don't even know if this is readable. But it's a musical snapshot of a Tween's playlist priorities. Gotta get us some good ol' rock n' roll in there, Graham. See me after class.

Gotta get us some good ol’ rock n’ roll in there, Graham. See me after class.

Playlist screenshot is probably only readable if you zoom in manually. But I suspect it’s a musical snapshot of many a Tween (or at least ones who spend more time with girls and women, as Graham does.) Hint, here we have:  “Call Me, Maybe”, Katy Perry, Rhianna, Glee, etcEtcETC! Ugh! — Can I get an “Amen”, hipster parents… especially y’all MEN out there?

When can I expect to see my son come around to listening to the good old rebellious, angst-ridden, fast and heavy stuff? When I was his age, at least I had the Elton John/Tommy soundtrack version of the Who’s “Pinball Wizard“, so I could pretend to be heavy, deep and real. This boy knows astrophysics principles better than I do (I kid you not) — so where’s his uber-geek non-c0n4Mist streak when it comes to music? Where’s Rise Against? Andrew Bird? Cee Lo? Jack White? Lecrae? Eminem? (Though I’d have to explain the four-letter words…) Heck, I’d even settle for some safe, milky-white John Mayer. As my buddy Gob from Arrested Development says, “Come ON”. But I love you anyway, Graham. Just teasin’.

Oops… sorry about the musical detour. Back to the apartment:

Enough to say that moving out of Mom’s (the temporary solution after my separation and divorce about two years ago) is a real “growing up” moment for me. For Graham, too –though it’s more natural to think of lifestyle transitions being tough on kids, but less common to call these “growing pains” for grownups. But I know that’s what they are.

I look forward to the solitude, to getting away from subtly influential voices and forces (not all negative, but certainly some have been). Outside forces and people  have me chasing my tail far too often: in relationships, in defining my priorities or self-worth, in career issues, even in the push-pull of giving and receiving good things rather than just the simplicity of BEING.

Speaking of simplicity, another aspect of this move is that I am seriously re-thinking my pack-rat tendencies and my addiction to “stuff”. Not necessarily pricy stuff, or even purchasable stuff. Just inconvenient stuff I have an unhealthy or overly-sentimental attachment to.

True confession time: I am a collector. It started with collecting coins, beer cans and other cool stuff when I was a kid. But I never stopped, and now I feel like the one being collected by all the corporations and people and programs and possessions vying for my attention, looking to add me to THEIR collection.

Does anyone out there recall that old Shel Silverstein poem from Where the Sidewalk Ends:  “Hector the Collector”?


by Shel Silverstein

Hector the Collector 
Collected bits of string, 
Collected dolls with broken heads
And rusty bells that would not ring. 
Pieces out of picture puzzles,
Bent-up nails and ice-cream sticks,
Twists of wires, worn-out tires, 
Paper bags and broken bricks.
Old chipped vases, half shoelaces,
Gatlin’ guns that wouldn’t shoot,
Leaky boats that wouldn’t float
And stopped-up horns that wouldn’t toot.
Butter knives that had no handles,
Copper keys that fit no locks,
Rings that were too small for fingers,
Dried-up leaves and patched-up socks.
Worn-out belts that had no buckles,
‘Lectric trains that had no tracks,
Airplane models, broken bottles, 
Three-legged chairs and cups with cracks.
Hector the Collector
Loved these things with all his soul‹
Loved them more than shining diamonds,
Loved them more than glistenin’ gold.
Hector called to all the people,
“Come and share my treasure trunk!”
And all the silly sightless people
Came and looked…and called it junk.

That’s me. I’m Hector.

Only now all these things I have collected are hectoring me. They’re dragging me down. They don’t fit into my midsize one-bedroom apartment. They may be useful to somebody else (“future usefulness” is another reason I keep them), but they are not IN somebody else’s cardboard box, they are in mine, and they are taking up valuable space… both physical and mental space.

Could be paper goods that bring back good memories (a flier from a group I wanted to follow up with, or a Playbill booklet from a stage show I saw). Could be a small trinket I found in an alley that sparked a poem, or an item that was given to me, and that still speaks to me. But whatever it is, it doesn’t matter: the visual and mental clutter in my life is ultimately too burdensome and distracting. By now, after so many years, I’m not GOING to follow up with x group that I kept that flier for. So why keep the flier?

Then we start moving away from a piece of paper to a book, then ten books. You see where this is going, right? After that, we start getting into furniture. Sometimes I’m tempted to think of myself as an aspiring Franciscan monk, like I can let go of all these worldly comforts and possessions at any time. But who am I KIDDING?!

Nevertheless, it is time to shed a lot of my shit. And big thanks to my sister Laura, my mother, friends Dan T., Jerry D. and new acquaintances Larry S. and his son Lamont for helping me get moved in the first place. Without you, I wouldn’t have been able to move, or even start this process of disconnecting from the un-needed and paring down to what’s essential. Thanks as well to my ex-wife Sue, who willingly stored some of this shit longer than she wanted to, and who has been on a similar journey herself perhaps, getting healthier and letting go of what’s not essential.

You friends and family who know me, please hold me to this commitment. It’s hard to break this “collector” pattern… it really is like an addiction. I hesitate to call it “hoarding”, because that cable tv show has such extreme examples, and I am not quite that way. In fact most of the things I have to get rid of are in my head, not in my apartment. But the same principle applies: too much busy-ness, attaching too much value to things that are in reality quite minor, and too much crazy-making distraction away from the essential goodness of life, … in other words, too much junk.

Sorry, Hector. You have to die. But fear not: resurrection is real.

So people, stop on by my Clubhouse of Solitude sometime if you’re in the neighborhood. You might go home with a ” ‘Lectric train that has no tracks”. On the other hand, maybe I’ll just hand you a beer, and we’ll sit around and just BE for a few minutes. Or we’ll crank the music up to 11 (you pick… my collection is prodigious), and then we’ll just rest, just BE. It gets easier, with practice. Or so they tell me.

Sound good?


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