The world is garbage and we’re all going to die, but at least we have Pup.
This edition of Spin Cycle features an updated version of an essay I wrote for a now out-of-print charity zine back in 2019. It’s like when Hollywood reboots a movie nobody saw the first time around, only with less CGI.
My friends and I call it the abyss. You probably have a term for it, but describing precisely what it is can be a challenge. Our abyss is an endless black hole that exists just below the tightrope we are all walking across in our daily lives. It is an ever-present reminder in the back of our heads that everything and everyone that means anything to us will inevitably turn to dust and be lost forever. It is the bully in the back of class telling us that whatever we hope to become or accomplish is ultimately meaningless, just like us, and there is nothing we can do about it.
On the darkest days, when we commiserate over our shared feelings of emptiness, we tell one another that acknowledging the abyss and falling into it are two different things. We cannot run from the truth that it so boldly declares, but we cannot allow the undeniable to stop us from chasing those things that give meaning to our existence. We're all in this together, or so we like to think, and as long as we hold tight to one another, the worst that our collective unconsciousness can do is remind us of the inevitable.
That abyss, or whatever you want to call it, is a part of existence for most, if not all, people. To be aware of your fragile state means wrestling with the notion it must end. Some do it quietly, while others — like me — prefer to frantically fight the idea of non-existence as if it were some battle that anyone could win. After all, why do I have to die? ME?! I'm not saying I'm special, but if it means I can continue existing on this mortal plane, then yes, by all means, I am special. I am unique, I am one-of-a-kind, and I'm pretty sure that makes me far too rare to become, as Kevin Devine once wrote, just another bag of bones for the Gods to sort. Go peacefully into the endless night? Not me. I will go out kicking and screaming, gritting my teeth, with both fists clenched. If the reaper wants me, he will have to take me by force.
Canadian punk band Pup recognizes that we all die. Hell, at least half of the group's songs long for the big sleep as an escape from whatever current worries are keeping them up at night. The band also understands that meditating on death and decay is no way to spend your time above ground. Morbid Stuff, the band's third full-length album, takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to our collective mortality. The record succeeds on many levels, but perhaps its most significant accomplishment lies in acknowledging the wasteland of modern reality and finding a way to laugh it off for the cruel and unforgiving joke that it is. Pup views the flames of the impending apocalypse as kindling for a bonfire that will warm their closest friends and dearest family members as they celebrate the end of all things with those that matter most. The band finds strength in the unstoppable by understanding that meaninglessness makes everything equal in time. You can whither in an office or a van with your pals all the same, so why not do the thing that you love and disregard the rest?
The problem with understanding the futility of life and living in a way that reflects that knowledge is that grasping the former is far easier than doing the latter. Most people are born into a world where they are told they only matter if they live to serve whoever is willing to pay them for their labor. Others learn to do what they love, just as long as that love can turn a profit for someone else and support a family or (as is far more often the case today) cover student loan debt. Those that fall into these categories are perhaps the luckiest of all, as many humans know the concept of legitimate freedom. They are born into a world of worry and work that will eventually kill them. In many ways, considering a future free from commitments to external forces is a privilege.
It has become clear to me over the last thirty-plus years I've walked this planet that basing our entire civilization around money and accumulating wealth may have been a misstep. We've created a system of organization for our whole species that actively works against our collective well-being in preference of continued industrial growth. That price of that decision is more often than not our happiness. We feel tethered to a way of life that we know cares not about us, and because of that, we lose hope in the idea of ever becoming more than another cog in a machine that will replace us just as soon as we pass. The work is never-ending, but we are, and as soon as someone becomes aware of that information, they unknowingly enter into a battle for self-preservation that lasts their entire life.
That act of self-realization is what brought the abyss into focus for my friends and me. It happened at different points for all of us, and we all took our time acknowledging its existence to one another. Some, myself included, considered or attempted to pass through the gates of eternal slumber before thinking that others might feel the same hopelessness we felt inside.
I don't remember what motivated me to attempt suicide, but I know it all started with four extra-strength Tylenol. Something about knowing I could take more than was recommended made me want to push the limit. Every night for a month, I added two pills to my nightly routine until I took so many that I collapsed onto the bathroom floor I shared with my college roommate. It wasn't until he woke me hours later with a splitting headache that I grasped how close I came to an end, and even then, I couldn't understand why I did it in the first place. Hindsight tells me it was the easiest solution, or so I thought, but now I know better.
Other incidents followed. To list them all would take far too long, but the setup is usually the same. Whether I found myself on a long walk in the woods, hanging with friends, or driving my car alone late at night, that all too familiar funny feeling crept into my soul. It often came as a voice, speaking absurdities with a tone of reason. It promised freedom or a sense of escape in exchange for harmful behaviors. An ever so slight turn of the steering wheel, a few too many shots of hard liquor, or a quick twist of a blade and every problem would disappear in a blur of extreme momentary pain.
I never lost sight of the abyss. I treat it like a predator, always looking for the perfect moment when it can lure me into its endless expanse of nothingness with false promises of peace and swallow me whole. When I sleep, I dream of the darkness, and when I rise, I acknowledge it, if only so it knows that I know it's there. My only relief comes from the humor shared between my closest friends about what scares us the most. We like to say we enjoy the dark shit, the things nobody wants to talk about it because it makes us feel strong. We believe that any laugh or moment of levity we can find in the worst-case scenarios makes those moments a little easier to endure. That collective longing for something — anything — to ease the pressure of being human makes us feel a little less alone.
Maybe that's why Morbid Stuff, and perhaps Pup's entire catalog, appeals to so many who feel the same way my friends and I do every day of our lives. Pup isn't afraid to look the abyss in its soulless, metaphorical eyes and raise a defiant middle finger. Their music is a declaration that the knowledge of our impending doom cannot stop the dreams of the heart or the creativity of the mind. Accepting death is not weak or depressing. It is empowering. Embracing death destroys the ego and raises awareness of our fleeting time to accomplish what we desire most. Anything we do may be meaningless in the unfathomably long timeline of the universe, but it means everything to us. If life is nothing more than a series of moments that are felt and then lost forever, we might as well embrace the calamity and do our best to wring every sensation out of each second we have available.
A quick note filled with feelings
I never expect people to relate to what I write. Over the last 13 years of calling myself a writer, I can probably count on both hands how many times something I've made left an impact on someone I knew in real life. That fact never really bothered me. After all, I don't write to earn a pat on the back from the people around me. I write because I don't know what else to do with myself. There are so many swirling around my head at any given moment. I need to release them or risk being wholly overwhelmed by existence. Spin Cycle provides me with that platform, and I thank you for reading along.
Recently, I have felt a shift. The last several issues of this newsletter have been better received than anything else I've created in I don't even know how long. People I've respected my entire life have written me to say they like what I’m doing here, and honestly? It’s a little weird. I don't know how to react, and sometimes it takes me days to respond, but please know that it means the world to me.
Anyone that studies art knows that people who show the world their true selves reap the most significant rewards. The problem is, sharing yourself is terrifying. We like to pretend we have our lives together. We want people to believe that we know what we're talking about and that we can figure out whatever problems we encounter. I cannot speak for you or anyone else, but that has never been the case for me. I am a complete wreck, and even on my best days, I will be the first to admit that I know virtually nothing. My brain is made up of songs and pop culture references wrapped around fleeting memories of romance, family, and friends. If you're looking for answers, you won't find any here.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that it took me over 30 years to get comfortable telling you my story. Now that I've started, I'm not sure I can stop. The things I share from here on out will be the most honest version of myself I can present at this time. It won't always be pretty or comfortable, but it is my reality. It turns out that old saying is true—when you give yourself to the world fully, the world season except you. Maybe not everyone, but certainly enough to make you feel less alone.