The war has come

I was off for a run and shuffle on my playlist reminded me another Sept. 11 is upon us.

Few things are constant decade after decade, but it was 10 years ago I said James O'Brien is an artist that my generation is lucky to have.

He's probably never going to be famous. Just important.

I'm over 40 now. There are a few experiences left that are going to change my life, but not many. Fatherhood. Aging parents. Eventually, declining health. Crazy advances in technology (well, more of them). Basically, though, I am who I'm going to be.

There are things that form us along that journey. People, places, planes flying into buildings, that sort of thing.

It was a couple of lifetimes ago I met James, in my early 20s. After 9/11, his was the first art that made sense to me. He's been releasing music again. He played a show recently. I don't know him anymore, not in any way resembling a relationship. But the internet allows us to follow along, through poetry and journalism and sharing.

All these years later, some lyrics still resound.

Rich white American children come from the suburbs and go to college,
where they learn a second language.
Sometimes, the language is a dead one.
It does not bother them.

Other American children come from the city and join an Army,
where they're certified to kill or heal.
If they fail at either, they come home dead.
It does not bother them.

We're still rich and poor. We're still sending kids off to war. People still do what they've always done, and are generally apathetic to their stations in life.

It's easy to write a bullet.
It does not hiss; it is not close to me.
It's easy to write a wound.
I've never clamped a femoral artery.

It's not easy to write. Wrenching a story out of words — particularly if it's someone else's story — can strip a lot out of you.

Listen to Doris Kearns Goodwin tell Tim Ferriss about weaving the tales of baseball games to her father, and then diving back in history to tell us about presidents, sometimes taking a decade or more to write a biography.

Read about Leonard Cohen sitting in his underwear on his hotel floor wrenching "Hallelujah" out of his soul.

But the difficulty of writing — the pain, the struggle — it's not going to kill you. Your sanity may be in danger; your body is not, unless you put it there.


This is the first generation of adults in America who can start looking, as a whole, to earn a living at something that makes them happy.

Until now, there have been two types of outliers. One is people who work in some form of creative space, such as writing, music, visual or performing arts or comedy. The other is the type of person who is genuinely happy doing something that is always a known money-maker, whether it's working as an auto mechanic, lawyer, doctor, accountant or machine welder.

Everyone else just finds something they're good enough at to maintain e job long enough to have a family and have a roof overhead, unless they don't and get caught up in some cycle of homelessness or prison or one of the other systems we have for people who don't "fit the mold."

These days, you can make a living jet skiing. Or making videos of yourself jet skiing. Or writing about jet skiing. Or reading aloud books about jet skiing.

It's amazing.

This isn't a rant against frivolity. It's a rant in favor of independence. We can't possibly know what this is going to look like in fifty years.

Don't fight it.

Do fight where you are, if you don't want to be there.

Do fight the apathy.

Do fight the notion that the way we've always done things is the way we should always do things.

Hey. Hey. Hey. The war has come.

And it's still here. Fight on.


Hey, consider going to buy James O'Brien's record Church of the Kitchen Sink (non-affiliate). It'll probably teach you something.

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