Am I a Pundit?
How I Got Here and Why I'll Likely Stay
I have been hesitant if what I am writing here should be relevant to ‘what’s going on’ in the world at large. Should I, now that Cop27 is over, comment on why it, just as with every year, is ultimately a failure of compassion and humanity from the leaders of our capitalistic world?
There is a fantasy that I have that, on some level, what I write might peak someone’s interest, change someone’s day. But in reality, it’s my own kind of punditry which is more like exhibiting photos of peanuts in a gallery with those who already want to see that kind of thing.
The world — built now mostly out of robots and robot DNA and by people who truly think there are no such things as spectrums in the world — is more polarized than ever. I know. Hot take. But still, I guess if I’m being up front, why do I want to be putting out these thoughts in the first place in a world already so fucking opinionated? This is my own kind of punditry on the climate, hopefully with a little lilt of myself within it, sure. But that’s a small reason.
So, what am I getting at?
Well, at first I sat to write about billionaires, about wealth and the way those with money, therefore capital to alter our planet, use their money not really for good at all, but rather for self preservation. But I don’t really want to talk about that anymore. I want to talk about myself: this ego within me that thinks that I am so wise as to make a comment on the billionaire class or pretty much anything for that matter. Inevitably I’ll write those other things later. I just want to come to understand why I’m writing any of this at all. I guess that’s what I’m writing today.
So no, I’m not going to write that thing about billionaires just yet. Instead I’d like to introduce myself, give you the story of who I am. It’s not a rich, or even novel, story, except for the events within it happened to me. It’s the groundwork in a way.
When I was around seventeen I started thinking that writing could be fun, partly because whenever I did try to write something well my family, or a teacher, would tell me with a sincerity that I thought was only reserved for the grown-ups among us that I was a great writer. I remember being in the fourth grade and my parents looking at me in shock after reading a journal story I wrote about a Coast Miwok boy who was taught to read and write English, telling the story of his life before his family is massacred. They told me it was amazing, but I hated writing it. I hated reading. I just did the assignment. I would have much rather played soccer or practiced my pop shove-its.
In high school, I gave up playing soccer and dedicated myself to painting. Being from a family of illustrators and painters, it came naturally. Writing wasn’t important until junior year. Before then, teachers would always give me terrific compliments—a social studies or literature teacher telling me I was a good writer with interesting ideas but that I didn’t have enough focus with my work. I would jump from idea to idea without any proper context, without any good reason. They would tell me this, alone without the class around, making me at once feel singled out and chosen.
Eventually I told my English teacher, MJ (or Mary Jane, literally) that I had read a Kurt Vonnegut novel that shook me. It was the book Sirens of Titan (I already told you my story is not new). She recommended other books for me to read, but more importantly she asked me what I wanted to do in college. At the time I didn’t really know, but I was obsessed with Rumi and was spending more time in my sketchbook writing terrible mystic poems of my own between my sketches. I told her I wanted to be a journalist, because that’s what Vonnegut had been before writing fiction, and it seemed like an easy way to write and make money. She said okay. MJ began to single out papers of mine to read to the class for how well they achieved some aspect of the essay form we were working on, making me feel as though my writing was truly good. But from the day I told her I wanted to write, I never got better than a B on most of her assignments.
At first it pissed me off. I thought she was being harsh, unsupportive, perhaps jealous of me. But a year after graduating high school and finally deciding that, yes, I wanted to go to a four-year college, I realized she was supportive — she was trying to push me. She wrote so many notes in the margins of my papers, criticized my syntax and grammar, my abhorrent spelling, and my chaotic ramblings I thought as powerful polemics, because she wanted me to write better. She wanted me to feel what critique truly was, to not be discouraged, but to learn from it.
As that first year with MJ ended and senior year began, some of my newer friends and I wanted to take some acid. Me, being incredibly cautious yet insatiably curious, researched the effects of acid on the brain, what kind of damages it could do, just in case it seemed like a bad idea. And it didn’t. It seemed terrifying, but mostly exciting. We all made a small Facebook group together with about fourteen of us, and decided to do it at one of our favorite beaches in Point Reyes, in the middle of the day on a weekend. We arrived at the beach, our friend who bought it for us handing out the small pieces of white paper, and put them in our mouths.
I was nervous, so I took some deep breaths. The tab was already in my stomach. I was in it now no matter how I felt, and that’s how it would be. Some of my friends started hitting a bong uncontrollably, but I took out an apple and a piece of Tillamook cheddar cheese and ate it, looking out to the lagoon beside the dunes where we stood. I forget who I was talking to, but I could suddenly start feeling it hitting me. The apple and cheese was incredible, the flavors, together, were a kind of poetry I hadn’t realized before. I insisted the person I was with try it. I saw their face loving it as well. Then it really began to hit. We were all here, alone together in this vast dune space beside the pacific ocean, wandering around the colorful ice plants and strawberry vines that weave their way around the sand just like the coyote bush on the rolling hillsides that lead us to this haven.
“Cole! Strawberry fields forever! Strawberry fields forever!” my friend yelled as they bounced up and down, holding a perfectly in tact sand dollar.
Simply put, we were incredibly high and observing beauty in a childlike way that I had never consciously felt before. I was stunned.
The day turned into night and we drove back to town. We kept hanging out, avoiding our homes until we felt a little bit more ‘stable,’ and continued on our way.
The next day I woke up, appearing to my mom as though everything were normal. But it wasn’t. It was incredible. I remember a friend who wasn’t there wanted to hear about it all and so we planned to meet up and talk about it. But frankly I couldn’t wait to tell him about it. This moment felt so pivotal, not for any specific reason beyond its newness. The novelty of it shocked me. It seemed as though maybe there was some epiphany or joy that I could bring into my life if I wrote it down and sought it out. So I did. I wrote it down.
I remember as I wrote how great that feeling was, of putting the experience into words. It felt fucking amazing. This wasn’t like journaling or anything, this was organizing small moments into a whole — a story of a group of teenager’s illuminating winter day on the beach. A simple and boring story, but a story nonetheless. After I spent an hour or so writing every little detail down, I realized right then that I really did want to write for a living. I wanted to write and through it tell of the world, mine and others, gathering any bit of compassion and humanity and pointing it out. And so I started to write. I learned of other authors, how they began. And I wrote. I wrote horrible poems, weird short stories, and even tried at a novel when I was nineteen. I still write poorly, but now I understand what my teachers were talking about. I do write well, but I have a chaotic mind, so my writing is chaotic. I find ways to waltz around it, but it’s still there, in every sentence. You can see it, I’m sure. No matter the diction, it’s always there.
Now, I’m a journalist, sort of, moving my way steadily up to bigger publications, trying to write about the environment with true hope, true fear, praying it sparks something in someone somewhere at some point. I’m working on a hope as vague and uncertain as the concept of energy: I know it’s real, I’m just not sure what it is.
I’m not as romantic as when I began. But that’s good. People with radical happiness I often find suspect much in the same way I find the constant hater a laboriously boring bummer. But now as I write, the romantic in me seems to doubt himself. I am unsure if what I do, while pointed, is any good. I’m unsure if sharing my wish for a bettered world is just. Am I just a pundit, some self-aggrandizing critic of the world like Ezra Klein or Robert Reich without doing much else but farting out of my fingers? I have no idea. I know my aspirations are well intentioned, but I’m not certain that is enough. I wish for others to see the world the way I do, as a place full of terrible beauty that we should try and save for the sake of reducing pain we as middle class citizens of the world have been placing on the people and places among us. But the billionaires, the ones who literally control our world right now, while sociopaths, appear to believe even they can’t stop Armageddon, and so use their money to try and protect themselves for the heat death of the planet. Such fucking idiocy. It is looking every day like these black and white thinking idiots may truly kill us. But what can I do to stop it? What is another piece on the oil crisis in Russia and its potential to push out more renewable energy in Europe really do, except gas up the snapping of fingers in the peanut gallery.
I don’t want to be so cynical, but it seems the only fair way of being these days. And anyway, I wanted to remember why it is that I write. I think I do now. And I think I will write on things going on as they happen because there’s nothing much else I can do — and people seem to forget the whole of a tree as they talk about the streams.