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Stars Up On the Ceiling

I missed two days. That was it, and then i got the prescription refilled. But I’m dealing with a darkness now, week and a half maybe, maybe longer, hard to say when these things start. You can’t tell if it’s just a bad mood or a poor sleep or what. But then it doesn’t go away.

So you try to keep busy. Wedding stuff, selling stuff on Craigslist to pay for stuff I already bought. Cleaning. Surprise projects like for instance this couch cushion still smells like cat urine so let’s run it under the hose for a while with some laundry detergent, maybe that’ll work. End of the day you have to pause because you have to, and it’s still there, and you lose an hour staring at a computer screen or the back of your eyelids, either way promising yourself that if you just get started you’ll feel better. Just do it. Just go.

On top of that I’ve a sudden return of my old friend penetrating heartburn of death, haven’t let him in yet but he’s knocking on the door and last night got his fingers through the cracks in the window, so that’s another pill I’ve got to take for a couple weeks, probs.

My absolute most burning desire right now is to work on the novel. I’ve been waiting like 180 pages to write Sally in and I thought I was finally at her section but it turns out I’m not, I just realized, I’m trying to combine her first section with her parents’, probably because I wrote it that way in the prewriting on like page 50 of the prewriting (which is now on page 268) so this was one of those early-on sections that made an immediate impact and stuck and I keep waiting for it to show up in the draft but as it turns out I’m still not there yet, I’ve been stuck on this chapter for about two months now mainly because i haven’t been working on it but I haven’t been working on it because I’m stuck and I think I’m stuck because Sally doesn’t actually get to come in yet. It might even be part three before she gets a full treatment, and she’s the proverbial rug that really ties the room together.

Strange, and probably the first thing I’d hear from an editor, assuming an editor would actually read the whole thing (‘Why the hell don’t we see Sally until page 400?’) but what’re you gonna do. 

Sally Nguyen, you fucking badass, you will own this book when I finally let you into it.

In the meantime I’m dealing in the past, so despite growing impatient myself with Sally’s delayed entrance, I’ve got to put it off while her parents take the stage, and then possibly Vinnie-Frank’s parents, and then Arthur, Marissa’s dad who kidnapped her as a baby, and then probably Rex’s parents, and I’ve sort of already covered Mookie’s parents and I haven’t written too much on Gil’s folks but they don’t seem that relevant to me, although Gil and his brother Lucas might require some attention, but so probably it’ll be Mookie and Gil as kids at basketball camp, and Denise has been sitting out this whole section so I’ll have to look into that because readers are bound to forget about her if that goes on too long, but this is a parents/past section and we’ve covered that with her and she doesn’t come back into the fray again until she gets out of jail and meets Mookie and Gil with Marissa and something happens I haven’t decided on yet but I’m fairly certain she’s important in that scene. Not so much because she has this big important past, but because of who she is. So, okay, Denise I guess you’re sitting out the history section too, hopefully you made a big enough impact in chapter 7 that people will recognize you like 15 chapters later.

This is nice. This is fun. Calming, even. I may be able to sleep after this.

And before I get out of the history section I feel like Rex has to get firmly into character, which was hinted at in chapter twelve. That’s probably chapter 18, which I was going to make it chapter 19 and have an official Sally chapter in 17 but you know what that’s not happening, we’ll have the intermission break with the third robot and Mookie and Vinnie-Frank enlightening us all, and then Sally gets the opening to section three, it’ll probably take fifty pages but you know what, she’s waited this long, she’s earned it.

My current state is not a full-on zero dark. I’m hovering around a kind of brownish orange, like a murky fruit cocktail that looks more healthy than tasty, except it’s in a dark room, sitting on a pedestal beneath the spotlight of a twenty-watt bulb on its last legs. And churning, as if something is swimming in it, like a small frog, except there is no frog it’s just doing it of its own accord. A small frog would actually be pretty awesome.

I put up the stars Gretchen got me for my birthday like six months ago, and it’s very satisfying gazing up into my makeshift galaxy. I’m hoping it’ll help me sleep. Occasionally it can have the opposite effect. Instead of relaxing under the watch of the infinite, I get caught up in the imperfections, seeing too much light over here, over there, too much dark.

I hope this doesn’t prove itself another long heartburn night. It very well might. The pressure is building.

All I want to do is close my eyes and guide my characters home.

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The Whys Have It

Down to my shirtsleeves:

because I hate being the guy that’s cold all the time, because my sweatshirt wasn’t feeling right, like the hood was tucked into the back instead of hanging free and maybe it was but I never verified the fact I just took it off, because it’s going to be 79 degrees tomorrow and I’m ready for summer, because I just made the bed and then came back into the room with the heater on and felt hot, genuinely hot, though now I’m starting to catch a chill but my hands are still warm so I’m rolling with it

Updating my Apple TV software:

because I’m insecure about not having the latest thing, because I want to play music as I write and this seemed like a barrier to the fact though in fact it wasn’t, because I thought maybe there might be some new Siri features in which I can use my Apple Music subscription and say hey Siri play me some writing music and it’ll do that for me, because I already updated my iPad and my iPhone and I didn’t want to leave the TV outside in the rain peering through the window, because it was a thing to do instead of writing like I already put the food away and made the bed and went to the bathroom and petted the cat and petted the other cat

Drinking a Yuengling:

because I have problem with alcohol, because it makes me feel adult despite understanding it’s a stab at hanging onto youth, because I’m in Pennsylvania, because Yuengling used to be the beer to drink in my social circle back in Ohio because they didn’t sell it there and anytime anyone made a trip east they were duty bound to bring back cases, but now they do sell it there which is just another reminder that sometimes the difficult thing is the most rewarding thing, or more pessimistically, that you only want the thing you can’t have because you can’t have it, because of Ben

Procrastinating on reading more entries for Arcadia:

because it reminds me I need to be submitting, because I spend my time after work talking with my fiancée and deciding or at least discussing our plans and certain things have to get pushed back, because I came across a story that actually has less than five typos and uses a firm vocabulary and seems to have a strategy and I enjoyed reading it but apart from being aware I would’ve made some different choices in the telling I also can’t decide for sure what the story is trying to do, and why it lingered so long where it did, and if I’m missing something, which is another way of saying I don’t trust myself enough to know what I’m talking about currently in terms of fiction

My legs are crossed like this:

because my cat likes to get up in my lap when I’m in the writing chair and he is otherwise not at all a lap cat but for some reason he’s decided this is the optimal situation for receiving my attention and demand my attention he does, which is very distracting from my procrastinating, because I’m on my third Yuengling and I know right soon I’ll have to use the bathroom again and I’m trying to give room for my bladder’s expansion, because I’m bony and my calf/shin area perched upon my knee is causing a small amount of pain that seems necessary tonight, because I’ve never been the type to go fullways, knee on knee, which for me is uncomfortable in the crotch area even though others insist it’s alright

Playing another year of fantasy baseball:

because I was asked, because the longtime commissioner J. who asked me asked in a way I couldn’t say no to, because they’re renaming the league after Ben, because I came in 11th out of 12 last year and so despite knowing how busy this summer is likely to be for me I don’t really feel any pressure to perform, because I do like baseball, because MLB.tv somehow auto-renewed my subscription again this year despite me making sure they did not have my current credit card information and so it seems like fate that baseball will be a part of my life so I may as well give in to it, because of Ben, although I can’t imagine ever feeling like playing Scrabble again, because of Ben

Writing:

because of Ankara, because of the Ivory Coast and Belgium, because someone has to recognize all of these terrorist events are equally newsworthy not just the Western tragedy, because people are dead and I am not, because the mass shooting in Wilkinsburg not five miles from my home disappeared from the front page of the news before the afternoon of the day after it happened, again, because these victims don’t count, because I am angry, because I am sad, because something I never said in the entry about Frank getting shot in the forehead with an AK-47 which is it doesn’t have to be like this

Writing:

because I want to be worthy of my novel, because baseball season is nearly here and I consider this my spring training for the writing of a baseball novel, because the more I write the more the keys feel like they’re speaking to me and not vice versa, because this is me, because this has to be me, because I spend hours upon hours not being me, instead being the person this society deserves but not the one it needs right now, because I need to get clichés and movie lines out of my system, because the me I am is not good enough but the me on paper is a decent likeness of the me I intend to become, because I have to understand things, because it often feels like I’m the only one who has to understand things, because social interaction seems almost universally predicated upon the assumption that you think I already understand everything and I have to keep up that charade or else you’ll think less of me which is a falsity that proves itself time and time and time again whenever anyone is brave enough to ask a question, because good fiction asks questions, because I have so many questions

Taking a break:

because I have to pee

Sweatshirt back on:

because I am who I am and I have to deal with it

Getting married:

because I love her, because I am who I am and she is too, because it is exciting to think about, because I am afraid of the future except when I’m with her, because she is a writer, because she knows how to undo me but never flaunts such power, because I trust her, because I love her for being able to trust her, because she makes me laugh, because she acknowledges the humor in flatulence, because she is predictably surprising, because I am tethered to her by some force I do not fully understand, because she is challenging, because she tries my patience and I never think to give up, like it just never occurs to me, because she is thoughtful and kind beyond all reason, because she loves the hell out of me, because she makes me curious as to how big life can actually be lived, because the idea of a family of my own does not seem pointless and self-indulgent if it’s with her, because she indulges my fetish for technology—to an extent, because she is motivated and impulsive and passionate and cheesy and otherwise just hella fun to be around

Writing:

because Dostoyevsky, because magic, because grace, because censorship, because my high school English teacher Ms. S, because readers, because meditation, because delusion, because hyperbole, because identity, because ladies, because men, because where would I be without it, because now that he is gone it seems even more essential to capture his attention, because I’m not that great a singer, because Vonnegut and DeLillo and that sonofabitch Wallace, because television, because Hollywood, because propaganda, because you are dead and I am not, because Faulkner, because Munro, because truth and hope and beauty, because legacy, because promise,  because I promise, because if the world burns down and dries up and puffs out of existence I would still promise, because I am capable of nothing else but to promise you this

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Schwoosh

I feel the need to explain basketball to you.

I’m writing a novel in part about basketball because I feel the need to explain basketball to you. Because there are people I like and people I want to be like and they either do not like basketball or they have no interest in basketball or they actively look down on basketball if not sports in general. I feel the need to tell these people the merits, the reasons, the why. I have the urge to explain myself. As though basketball is embarrassing, a pointless pastime, as though any given noun could be ranked on its existential worthiness and in that all-encompassing scale basketball must fall in the lower half. If there were two things, basketball would be ranked second, per se. If there were 100, basketball would top out at 51st. At the maximum. Meaning that basketball is not the worst thing, but there are always more things better than basketball than there are worse.

I have to write a novel, apparently, to explain to you why this isn’t true.

When the game starts, I can completely see this point of view, completely empathize. When I get out on a court and I have a ball in my hands and the hoop feels twice as high as me again and the bizarre feature of the latticework net that unlike most nets is designed to hold nothing, attached even-paced around an iron circle which itself at first blush seems comically large, manhole cover large, how could this be a challenge much less a sport, even if it is so goddamn high in the air. At the start of the game, the first shot of the game, all of that surreality is intact. Toss a ball against gravity, let gravity bring it back. If the game were just shooting, no one would play it for more than the duration of your given carnival fare. And that’s assuming prizes.

But then incorporate the dribble, and therein lies the physical appeal, the pleasure of physics. Like, this is why I’ll never understand the designated hitter, I mean from the player’s perspective, like where’s the balance, how can it feel like a sport to you if you never catch the ball? Dribbling is a perfect antithesis to shooting, again, on its own there’s not much there, simply a repeated attempt to augment gravity against a reflective surface enough as to get the ball to return to the general vicinity of the hand which released it, in order to launch it back towards the earth once more. Augment gravity, fight gravity. Dribble, shoot.

Even that, though. Even the combination of the two isn’t enough, the physical pleasure, not enough to merit basketball’s placement into the upper half of Things. My argument is that basketball is strangely cumulative. On a court by yourself or in a game. You notice it especially, though, during a game. The first basket counts as much as the last basket but the last basket, the last shot, seems to bear all the importance of every one previous, combined. 

I watched Wisconsin tonight make the last shot they took, a three-pointer, in a tie game as the clock ran out. They made seven others throughout the course of the game, three-pointers. Each of those, mathematically speaking, was just as much the difference in the game as the last one. And it was a tie game, even, before that final one. They didn’t even need the three. They made seventeen other regular two-point shots. Every one of those also made the difference, and free throws! They made eight free throws at one point apiece, and yeah they could’ve missed on two more of those, but at least six of those free throws were vital, according to the intransigent laws of addition, to putting Wisconsin on top.

But my goodness was that last shot exciting.

Take away the clock, then, you say, take away the other team, and what have you got? Should be nothing. But it isn’t, somehow. It’s cumulative anyway, without keeping score. My favorite thing to do, in basketball, and if I’m being honest one of my favorite things in the world is to stand and shoot free throws. My routine is three dribbles, spin the ball backwards in the palm of my hand, catch it in shooting position, exhale, bend the knees, downward upward, and release. Over and over and over again. The first one feels like a foreign language. The last, on a good day, like spontaneous verse.

That’s the other thing. Fluency. I can promise you this, the Wisconsin guard who made the last shot tonight, he knew he was going to make it. There was not a doubt in his mind. Actually time was running down, five four three, and he had the ball and he crossed half court and he was about to take a shot when his teammate called a timeout at two. This guy, though, Bronson Koenig, he knew then. Five minutes before they finally let him take the shot. He told his teammate during the timeout, just get it to me, that’s all you have to do. Reminder, they did not need three points. It just so happened that’s where he wound up with the ball. Deep in the corner, nearly out of bounds, in fact he wound up behind another player on his own bench, his momentum carried him off the court and he could barely see the shot go in as time ran out but he didn’t need to, because he already knew.

This is, like, an essential aspect of life, to me. This feeling. It’s attainable in other sports, but none so readily as basketball, and if you don’t play sports of any kind I don’t know how rare such a feeling may be to you, or where you find it. I get it from writing. I can imagine it happening in other arts, music, painting, but finding it there seems to me so much more challenging. Probably all the more satisfying when it arrives, though, which points to basketball as a shortcut, like a drug, and I’ll admit that, it’s a nice stand-in, more fleeting, but every bit as real.

If you’re not creating something, though. Where else? I see people craving it. Online especially, Twitter, Facebook. People I know to have third-choice jobs and second mortgages, whose only practice comes in the service of either aspirations of a promotion or keeping themselves or their families alive and societally functional. I see it most in the comments section, under the guise of anonymity, people imagining themselves laureates and heaving their heavy words out into space, waiting for the landing, expecting to bring the house down with thunderous applause. But just don’t tell my mom I said that, okay?

I need the arts. I need the sports. I need the sleep, it’s about that time, oh btw there’s a comments section below and don’t forget to click ‘like,’ thanks for coming to my website, see you next time, I’ll try to do better.

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Just Can't Just Won't

Sex Offenders Can Be Nice Guys: How Making Jared Fogle a Monster Encourages Abusers

In which I find out I’m not a humanist.

If you’ve already decided to TL;DR that article, here’s the gist: celebrating the beatdown of a person who has done Bad Things allows us to turn him into a monster and thus not deal with the fact that we once considered him an upstanding member of society. It’s a shame if you’ve decided so, that is, not to read it, because it’s a bold, sharply written piece that defends an unpopular stance with solid rhetorical appeals. But it is way over the 140 character threshold, so I guess the modern attention span can’t be expected to see it through to the 2000th word.

Ahem.

My gut reaction to the article was to review my gut reaction to the news that the famous pedophile Subway guy got smacked down, specifically for being the famous pedophile who took the infamous fall from grace. If that was too meta for you, I’ll rephrase: I immediately had to think, did I celebrate it? Someone in jail decided the famous villain needed a famous avenger. Was I so ecstatic he had been violently attacked that I wanted to share the news with others and say something quippy about it?

Well, I mean, I am writing this now, aren’t I.

Sub-theme to the article: by turning convicted pedos into monsters who deserve slaying, we encourage or enable further abuse by allowing for the continuation of the myth that nice guys would never do that. Enable? Yes, I’m on board with that. Encourage? I dunno. I tend to doubt it. If someone has a guilty conscience, I highly doubt it’s the potential for prison retribution that keeps them putting on their ideal public persona everyday. You might have an argument for the old duality of self, in that if they can convince themselves they are in fact nice and not a monster then that might allow them to keep denying their own monstrous side. But the world in which a pedophile operates, in my view, is so buried deep within their own psyche that even if our society did roll out the red carpet for pedophiles but to admit their urges in exchange for a lifelong ticket to a gold-rimmed therapy couch and cushy psychological care, and like, lots of money, they still would not. They’d be all Yes I agree with society on this issue as well as everything else because I’m such a nice guy and nice guys agree and no this has nothing to do with me nope no nothing at all, therapy, me? But I’m so nice! Now what time can I babysit again no don’t worry pay me later this one’s on me because I’m such, a, nice.

Yes it is important, I think the article rightly points out, not to allow ourselves the safety of myth. Nice guys are not universally nice any more than monsters are inescapably monsters. But what I learned about myself reading that is, I’m just not above a little human hating. I don’t know about “deserves.” I don’t know about karma. Who could know what an equal trade-off would be for his sins anyway, I certainly don’t and I don’t care to figure it out. What I do know is that I’ve always wanted to hit that guy in the face. Always. He’s just always been on my face-hitting list.

No, not “just.” I have a near crippling addiction to the word “just,” I say it when I don’t mean it, and I didn’t mean it ju— um, back there, because I’m not done with the deep dive, here. I’m still holding my breath.

Let me explain.

Today on the way to work I noticed an SUV was in a line of cars with their engines running and I noticed this SUV because it was white and large and oh it’s moving, it’s moving out into traffic, I’m coming up on it and if it’s trying to better parallel park that’s one thing but nope, oh, yeah he’s pulling out with barely a look and nary a signal, the fucker. I could have rapidly slowed, but I don’t tend to trust people behind me to look up from their text message in time to avoid hitting me. My preferred method of not getting into an accident is not to do the accidenting. So, seeing the oncoming lane empty, I maintained speed and swerved around him.

I’m sure by all accounts this was a nice man, certainly everyone who knows him would say so, dropping his kids off at school everyday so they don’t have to walk the streets, negotiating his work schedule and probably his wife’s to get them rides to and from, I’m sure he volunteers at the school too, during food pledges and fruit drives and what have you. And likely too, he’s from this city, he knows how people drive here (horribly), he’s pulled this move a thousand times before, see enough space to get in and they’ll slow down for you. They’ll have to.

But. Now trailing me, the man stayed on me another couple blocks and then was making a right where I continued straight. As it happens, traffic had slowed, and before his turning street was necessarily in range he was apparently in a hurry enough to swerve onto the berm and go by me, but not in such a hurry as to be able to resist slowing down through the turn and checking me out, me, the guy who avoided hitting his careless ass in a perhaps less than courteous way. And me? I was watching for him likewise. He came to a near stop, and I glared at him, and he got his first good look at me, his own attempt at a glare seemingly caught up in a conflict between wanting to tell me to fuck myself so hard and realizing I was a white guy, because he was black and these sorts of conflicts have historically not panned out so well and especially not lately.

He drove on.

Did I want to fight him? No. Would I have minded seeing his driving style, or lack thereof, resulting in him, I don’t know, clipping a fire hydrant with the sudden loosed pressure rocketing the newly freed projectile up through his engine block and flooding his stupid cockpit with 5000 gallons of icy cold Allegheny? No, I wouldn’t have minded that at all.

If humanism is based on empathy, I believe I could be a humanist. But if that empathy requires me never to wish pain upon or judge other people, I don’t think I can do that. I wouldn’t be who I am without the pain I’ve been through, and I most certainly deserve to be judged. I don’t begrudge this man his instinct to drive by and glare. I just (damn it) I simply felt he deserved a strong smack in the forehead with an open palm.

My first Reds game at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, they had someone there to throw out a ceremonial first pitch, as they often do. I think this was a Sunday, a weekend gig, so it wasn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill local boy scout troop, or Polly the librarian for the made-up-but-entirely-should-exist Let’s Celebrate a Librarian Day. No, Sundays merit a slightly higher caliber of fame, so I was looking forward to it. Until they announced Jared. Good old Jared from Subway.

I didn’t like him much before that day, what with the omnipresence at the time of those misleading ads that claimed a regular diet of 800-calorie sodium bricks was healthy (don’t forget chips and a soda!), and not just because they were misleading, but because you could tell he knew they were misleading. He knew and I knew that, with every commercial, he was becoming more and more practiced a liar, and he was getting paid fat for it. Or paid royally, I suppose, I hadn’t intended the pun.

But it wasn’t even that logical, really, my dislike, and it didn’t need to be. Mostly my reaction to him was gut-level and fleeting: I fuckin hate that guy. Then poof, commercial over. Until I saw him on the Jumbotron. Then, my rage sharpened, and my resentment grew active and I would speak on it to anyone who brought him up.

That was it. The extent of it. I decided I didn’t like him right then, and if you cut out the rest of the following and now well-documented Jared history from my memory and told me yesterday that Jared got beat up in prison, I would’ve smirked a little on principle before wondering what he’d done to land himself there or how bad the beating. I didn’t need to know what I know. Which isn’t much, mind you, I already couldn’t stand the guy, I’ve taken no specific interest in having my suspicions of his ill character confirmed and horribly.

And I just can’t feel bad for him. Not because I don’t empathize with the monster; I think I do, a bit. I would wager he’s in a lot of pain right now. I would expect he’s more than a little afraid, and probably being protected enough in the meantime to where he’s allowing in feelings of righteousness, like I know I’m a bad whatever but come on, who says this is fair, how is my excruciatingly broken this-and-that a just penance for my transgressions. It’s not, I tell you, it’s not, shh shh shhhh ow ow ow.

Or possibly he’s never admitted to himself his own guilt and feels outright offended at the implication of a deserved retribution. Or maybe he’s near suicidally guilty over his long-held secret life and keeps pushing the bruises in with a thumb because it’s no more than exactly what he’s worth, you dirty, nasty Jared, how could you. Or maybe all of these Jareds, appearing and receding in cycles.

Because yes, he is human, and no, there is no karma, no convenient system of nice for nice or evil for evil. But I smile when I think of this human’s suffering because it allows me the temporary suggestion of such order. It’s satisfyingly tidy, like a sitcom ending or a silverware drawer.

Really, though, it’s just a thing that happened to a guy I don’t know, and it has no more meaning than that.

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Twenty Things

Surely you must know me by now.
I have exactly twenty things wrong with me at any given time. Number seven on the list right now: my eczema flare-ups, which have been particularly bad this winter, but mostly only on my back, which is a new thing this year. That’s not the thing wrong, though, the thing wrong is that there’s always one itchy spot in the middle of my back I can’t reach.
Number one, right now and most of the time: I can’t only see one side of things. I’m all gray. 
Fourteen: Sometimes I say outlandish things and then try to defend them.
Eight: My cat.
But about the gray thing, I say, trying to defend my writing lap from my cat who is incidentally black and white, I can’t claim to be 100% sure Bernie is the best candidate for this election, although I am certain I am most interested to see what he could do with the presidency. I am also pretty sure he’d take a larger portion of the vote from whatever Republican candidate gets picked to run instead of he who will not be named.
I don’t want to talk about politics. Not really. I don’t hate Hilary. I don’t believe we’ve seen the real Hilary yet. I think she’s been in campaign mode for a decade and doesn’t know what it feels like anymore to be herself except when she’s completely alone. I think she’s forgotten a lot of why she wanted to become president over the years but I do think when she gets it she’ll remember, and try to do good things. I don’t think she takes the possibility lightly of being the first. I’d prefer whatshername, Warren? But so it goes. 
I’d rather talk about the psychology of politics. I used to tell myself I was liberal because I was unselfish, because I wanted good things for others, and I kind of expected to get more conservative as I got older, the more selfish I became, wanting better things for myself over my remaining years, or whatever. Truth is I’ve always been selfish and the more I become so as I get older the more liberal I get.
I don’t want to have to mistrust the people around me, is probably what it comes down to. I see some scruffy-looking nerf herder walking at me down the sidewalk, I don’t want to have to worry that because his life is hard and he lost his job and couldn’t get unemployment or drug counseling that now suddenly I’m the one getting stabbed, no, hell no. I don’t want to have to consider that guy at all. I would much rather pay taxes than volunteer. Drive through a bad part of town? No thank, I’d rather elect the guy with plans to raise the minimum wage so that people working minimum wage jobs can afford what they want, if what they want is to live and dream and grow. I’ve never been a huge subscriber to the bootstraps theory, like if you’re smart enough and good enough you’ll fix things for yourself, but let’s go ahead, let’s assume that the people living in the shittier neighborhoods do in fact deserve to be there because they’re not smart enough or financially clever enough or whatever magic characteristic is supposed to stamp your ticket. I’ve never met anyone too dumb or too fiscally unstable to be unable figure out how to live, given the chance. That’s all anyone wants, is to live.
And if you feel secure in your ability to live, then I feel secure in my decision to ignore you completely without getting face-stabbed. Selfish. I am liberally selfish.
I hate writing about politics and I really would like to leave it there but something else has been burning in my craw a bit lately. A friend of mine has been taking offense to the depictions of Who Would Ever Vote For he-who-must-not, commonly the gap-toothed redneck stereotype. I’d seen her less than warm reception of other redneck jokes typically made by the Onion before, but the campaign has stepped up the Onion’s satirical take on dumb voters and she has not appreciated the scapegoating.
Which, yes, it is coarse and belittling, but a similar opinion to my friend’s has popped up in legitimate news discussion, namely that people who are currently going out to vote for what I still maintain will be the most obvious example of pure evil since Hitler when history ultimately writes this page, the voters supporting this person got pushed into his corner by the uppity liberal democrats who stopped caring about poor people in favor of the intellectual elite.
I cannot agree with this. I see what you’re saying, but I cannot agree. 
The worst thing about the college culture is that people are made to believe they have to go, or else they are automatically a failure at life. I’ve met dozens of students who had no interest being in college but didn’t want to be a loser, either. But don’t demonize people who do end up appreciating what they got from their education, just because they’re more likely to grab the blue lever every four years. 
I have redneck friends, self-proclaimed, not my word, but friend who reject the college assumption and yes some of them do then gravitate to a rebel identity. Fuck the establishment and such. And that is totally fine, but it is no excuse for the nonsense we’re being forced to endure, and will continue to have to endure through November. I don’t care if you live in a trailer or if you are a standard internet troll, if you support this man, you are an asshole. And I’ll put up with a few Onion articles that overshoot the mark, if only it makes you realize that fact.
You know we still have an entire baseball season to go before this election? My god I can’t wait for it to end.

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Stone Cold

You guys. Building a website is like, soooo tiring.

I’ve been off, I’ve been away. We had scheduled the Michigan trip assuming there would be ice to fish through. And there was, but not enough to support us, not on my friend’s lake, at least. We had to drive an hour north. Conditions proved favorable. Very little wind.

…and I’m back. Just had to step out to the store for a minute. It’s almost midnight. I almost never see the world this late anymore. I miss it. My buddy Matt, whom I’ll mention by name because he has no social media accounts and never gets online and wouldn’t even read the fishing story I wrote, about fishing, but also he just wouldn’t give a shit, Matt still works nights. I used to. Five years I did the graveyard shift at a hotel. Wrote a lot. Like a lot. I tell people I’ve written a novel and a half. Really I’ve started two other and also a novella. One of them I even got quite near the end, but it was maudlin tripe, an argument for suicide, stuff I felt every fifteen-year-old in the country would want to read from a twenty-two-year-old about a thirty-year-old. The other novel was about Jesus being a vampire. I got maybe a hundred pages into that one. Still might finish it. It was fun.

But I miss the midnight, especially ones like this one, dampness all around, on the precipice of a warm rain. Everyone around has a reason to be awake and the reason is familiar to them, not preferred but accepted. They are making the most of it. They are not social but they are not shy.

Matt belongs to this crew. He wants to be far away from everyone and close to anyone who shares that sentiment. I could write about Matt for days, and I have.

But I met a friend of Matt’s this trip who begs to be written about. He drives a Ford Mustang. Matt, incidentally, also owns a Ford Mustang. Along with his friend, whom I’ll call Frank, that means I now know three people I do not wish immediate death upon who do drive a Mustang. The first was a girl I worked with who later traded it in for a Prius. I have no strong feelings about Prius drivers, but typically it goes like this: I decide you are an intolerable person whom I want nowhere near the vicinity of my life, then later I find out you drive a Mustang, and I’m like, well that makes sense.

Matt probably bought his because of Frank’s, purchased brand new, pimped out with wide road tires that are no good in the snow. Matt actually had to go help him escape a ditch on his way over from Grand Rapids. Rear-wheel drive, all kinds of customization, “my baby” he called it. He sold his truck and kept the Mustang, a vehicle he cannot use for a large part of every year. But apparently does anyway.

Still Frank seemed to have a good head on his shoulders. He kept the Mustang for the sentimental value. It was a present to himself for having a good-paying job, which he no longer works, because he got shot in the head with an AK-47.

Oh, did I not mention that?

Yeah, Matt didn’t either, until like right before Frank got there. But Frank was quick to bring it up on his own, although not ostentatiously so, just as though he had nothing to hide, or felt he could not. Because he did have a limp. He got shot twice in the head, but the most damning of the injuries was the leg shot. He cannot do the labor job that he had with Matt, and he loved that job.

Still. Yes, he is bored now, doesn’t know how to fill his time, and yes the medical bills did cause him to have to sell one of his vehicles. But he’s still got his baby, and he’s got a fiancée, and a hell of a story to tell.

Matt didn’t know before this it was an AK. The rounds were .22s, but still. It was a jealous ex-boyfriend. Waited for Frank at the girl’s apartment. I never actually got the impression Frank and the girl did anything too serious, maybe they slept together once or twice, but it was more like they were all friends and this girl just barely a woman decided she was done with one and moved on to the next one. She was not yet 21 and regularly getting herself in trouble and this was what beckoned Frank to her apartment that night, he was coming over to check on her, I don’t know why. The ex-boyfriend was there waiting on him in the apartment.

He didn’t hit him with the first shots. Frank ran for it, back outside and into the woods. He hid and waited. And waited. And when he was sure the shooter was gone, he thought back into the apartment, he slowly stepped out.

At this point, Frank said in his story, “And he was there, waiting on me.” I don’t know if this means they had a moment where they both recognized how giant the next second’s contained decisions would become. If they locked eyes, and the oncoming second’s enormity seemed to have a gravitational pull they could both feel, a second which on film would be slowed down and dragged out, but if it happens in real life it only feels that way. That moment when Frank knew he was about to get shot.

Or maybe he was just making sure I was keeping up with the story.

In either case, the first shot hit him square in the forehead. And didn’t penetrate. The kill shot hit its mark and failed regardless. It did knock him backwards. The next shot did pierce his skull and exit, not nearly as centered but it did travel a full four inches inside his dome and come out again and somehow it too failed to scramble enough brain matter to kill him. I’m not exactly clear on when he got hit in the leg, but he did show me x-rays of where bone was and where it was supposed to be but wasn’t. He did describe the surgeries and pointed out where you could see the pins beneath the skin around his knee and his ankle. I asked him if he could tell when it’s going to rain now, and he said no.

He didn’t seem to concerned about the new shortcut he’d acquired from the front to the back of his head. The doctors said he seemed fine, and he felt fine. There was one thing that surprised him, just recently. He was lifting weights and his mom was there and he was supposed to do a set of fifteen but every time he got to fifteen he kept starting over at five again, and didn’t notice, and kept lifting.

He’s a religious man, although his future wife seems much more so, but he does believe in a god. But he seems, more simply, to believe he just has a very hard forehead.

The shooter knew him, as I said, and for whatever reason seemed content enough with attempted murder. They were sitting together when the cops came. Frank said no, what, I don’t know what you’re talking about, because the shooter had threatened to kill him, for realsies this time I guess, if he turned him in. But at some point between the shooting and the threat, Frank had already called 9-1-1 and told them the name of who’d shot him. I get the impression the shooter left him there to die, and Frank lost consciousness for a while and then woke up with a headache and, this much I know, reached around to the back of his head and felt all the blood there, brought his whole hand back red. And then he must have called, and then the shooter must’ve come to collect the body. Imagine that. Being presumed a body. Then being helped inside by your would-be murderer. Then having the presence of mind to know the cops know the shooter’s name, and to give up on. Let them do their jobs. Play it cool. If there is a word for Frank, it is cool.

And that, friends, is my tale of ice fishing in Michigan.

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I’ve been trying to write for days.

This is what’s coming out. Slow dry declaratives. Short sentences. Non-sentences.

My brother-in-law died on Thursday. I got a text from my mother just as I got to work. It was not unexpected news. Still I had eight hours of work in front of me.

This is what’s coming, is pure historical record.

I had had visions of my reaction, had I gotten the news at work. We have a fire exit in the back where I work and I imagined myself ripping through the door and the alarm blaring and the snow falling. Instead I did my work and I told no one except to ask for some bereavement leave the upcoming week, once I learned when the funereal events were to be held.

How about a medication update? I got sad, occasionally organically, sometimes it was with effort, like I was chasing sadness down a twisting series of back alleys and sometimes I would glimpse it just turning a corner, and sometimes I could hit the accelerator and catch it. Sometimes not. Sometimes I ran out of gas and my emotional pace slowed and I would be numb for a bit and notice the colors of things. The taste. 

Speaking of taste. I’ve been deep before and writing has gotten me out of it, eventually, not that this situation isn’t unique and terrible in its own right, its own unique flavor of dark. But I know enough by now to know I need to write. 

How to get there, is the question. 

At the viewing and after the funeral they had copies of some poems Ben had written. His commencement speech to the class of 2008. His best man’s speech at his brother’s wedding. I took none of them. 

When the graveside services were over, his family starting pulling flowers from the bouquet to keep, presumably to keep. I did not take one. 

His lot was down a small hill from the pavement where the hearse parked and I ended up on the right side of the casket in the corner, which meant I had to lift with my left arm, which has been gimpy for… months, I guess, like my elbow is rotting out or something is what it feels like when I lift something heavy. Going down the hill towards the lot I wound up in the bottom corner meaning I had the major portion of the weight of the casket and my brother-in-law inside and it was one of those moments like not adrenaline or anything, no super-human strength but I ordinarily would have said stop hold on I can’t do this I need a break I need to put it down. But I decided, as if there were a decision to make, that whatever my body was asking for would not be granted, not reprieve, not energy reserves, not oxygen, not even a second hand. My gimp left could do no more but it would do no less goddamn it would do no less.

My ex used to ask me to make promises of impossible things, and I would promise them. Like when she said what would happen when her MS got so bad she couldn’t walk, I said I would push her in a wheelchair wherever she wanted to go, and she said that in France they are not so great at making things accessible to wheelchairs and I said I’d invent a chair that could take the stairs, it wouldn’t be hard, I could do it, I still remember the design I thought up on the spot for my mind to grasp onto so that I could look her in the eyes and not lie. But there is a difference between not lying and telling the truth, and these inventions I envision and these novels I half-write and these remedies and workarounds for diseases beyond my comprehension that hold such promise when my eyes are closed, that seem certain to cure everything but death that I can’t sleep and can’t sleep and then it’s morning and only once I’m upright and back in the weather of the world do I seem to understand that physics is a truth unswayed by fantasy and hope. These songs I write the drumlines and the bassline to and once those are established I hear the guitar solos rip off into the night like a V-8 on a straightaway, until I sit down with a guitar or a drum and every category of overqualified equipment and I hear nothing. They are not lies but they are not the truth.

One of the priests quoted from Ben’s commencement speech in which Ben had said that after his diagnosis he realized he’d been asleep for the first thirty-odd years of his life. 

This is what’s coming. History and pragmatism.

I’ve been drawing lately because I don’t know. It’s a good distraction until it isn’t, and then usually I put it down, but tonight I hit that wall and kept going and kept fucking up, kept getting it wrong and trying again and when I stopped I looked at the whole picture again and a lot was different but I couldn’t say with any honesty that I’d improved a single aspect of it. So, pointless activity in the face of humility, or something, whatever, it got me to the computer. Because even though it may be an illusion, here at least I feel like the choices I make matter. I feel as though I’m not wasting my time. I feel… something like awake.

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I have three computers, currently. On this one, I haven’t yet set up iCloud Photo Library, which would allow me to look up all of my photos and pick the ones of Ben I want to post, which is what I told him I would do, at his bedside, in room 327 of Grant Hospital in Columbus.

Not really a room, actually. The ICU has more areas than rooms. They can close it off with a curtain, and there is a toilet, but really it’s just a segment of the larger space. Walled off from the other ICUers, but still, not a room.

My photo library is updating itself before I can look at all of my photos. 16000 or so in all, most of which I did not keep on this little MacBook Air, but all of which are already on the cloud, but I guess it has to mitigate that library with what’s on this computer, or something. Technology is my professional field but it is never perfect. Physics is always perfect. I was thinking the other day that gravity is such a spread out force that we never think of it as such, a force, an acceleration, gravity in our case being experienced as a result of the earth’s pull and the earth’s nice spherical formation means that gravity along its surface is more or less constant, as experienced by us. But think about it like something being thrown, like I would throw a ball to you, and then zzzzhhhooooooooooppp slow it down to near imperceptible speed and you’ve got force traveling in one direction (discounting the earth’s gravity, of course) and then zoom in a bunch and put some tiny people on the opposite side and don’t allow them any real perspective in the form of time or telescopes and suddenly, to them, gravity. Their feet stay on the ground. 

So chairs and beds are just gravity buckets. Shoes, gravity cushions. Like catcher’s gear, designed to absorb force. 

Oh good, it’s treating all the photos on this Mac like new photos even though they’re the same photos I have on my other Macs. So, 1300 new copies of the same photos. Sweet. Good job, technology. 

You want to talk about gravity, try adding a bunch of fluid to a body that isn’t currently processing fluids very well. See how it swells. See how the push of directional force affects it. See gravity in action. 

I believe in physics and I believe in chemistry to the extent that it is physics on a molecular level. I’m starting to wonder if this is a necessary belief structure that all doctors share, like one would infer based on the title ‘doctor.’ I don’t mean to speak poorly of Ben’s physicians, but the more people in lab coats who showed up in his room, the more I looked at them as people, not lab coats. On television, a lab coat grants you super powers, or at least the power to summon every medical textbook ever written and to compare and contrast all known medical knowledge with the current unprecedented case, as most cases are. But in each new persona I sensed an extreme case of subjectivity, which, if you’re keeping score at home, is the opposite of objectivity, which is what one would expect of a science-based discipline. 

But what was I hoping for? In every single instance in which I’ve visited a doctor I’ve come away with a similar impression. As I probably should have. Because as smart as doctors, well, probably ought to be in order to get their licenses, they are still people.

The reason I am not an engineer, by the by, is because I couldn’t make physics sense of Physics 2, which involved the physics—I guess—of electricity. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, and dropped out. And now I work servicing computers for a living. 

I want to tell you a reason why I love Ben and you should too. It’s because of trivia, and poetry, and yes these are interrelated aspects, so it counts as one reason, shut up. Probably the defining motivation behind my drive to survive, my reason for being, my will to live, as it were, is to understand things I do not understand. There have been a few I’ve been able to knock off the list. Example: driving a standard transmission. My dad tried to teach me on his Chevy S-10 way back when I was learning to drive, but the clutch and its release remained elusive to me, and I stalled and I stalled and I figured I would never get it, until I bought a car I liked which happened to have a standard and thus I learned it, much to my own surprise and delight. It was a mystery, and I overcame it, challenging because of the inverse relationship of releasing the clutch versus pushing the gas. Like rubbing your belly and patting your head. 

Another? Guitar. I watched people do it but couldn’t fathom what that skill might feel like to possess in one’s own brain. Then I got one, a guitar, and I practiced the finger positions, and three years later I realized I could feel a fretboard in my palm and make a G chord with as minimal active frontal lobe activity as to allow me to label it ‘not thinking about it,’ and then I could see how a guitarist with enough practice could recognize a necessary note or chord and essentially sing with a set of six strings instead of a voice. I didn’t master it but I comprehended it. The stick shift, FYI, I did master, not to brag, but I’m really great. 

So that’s what it’s like, being inside the brain of someone with an intellect of my capacity, which is not phenomenal, but, you know. Of a certain level. 

Technology, by the way: The OS on Macs since Yosemite have a feature that saves processor… processes, I forget what it’s called, but it keeps the active window at the forefront of priority and pauses whatever the other windows are doing, so all this time I’ve been typing, Photos has not really been doing much in terms of uploading those 1300 photos it thinks it needs to. I have to keep clicking over to it to remind it to work.

But Ben again. He is of an intellect greater than my own, on multiple levels. Trivia: we used to play regularly, Thursday night Showdown at BW3′s which is now called Buffalo Wild Wings because nobody knew what Weck was and it confused and infuriated the wing-craving populace. It’s been years since we played but today for some reason I’m getting the impression of being his pupil on those evenings with him and my sister and beer and hot wings, of getting answers wrong and he’d be there getting them right and occasionally but not so much as to appear preachy he’d tell me how he remembered that answer, patiently, infinitely patiently, like a good dog owner who never gets mad at a little rug pee. If you’ve ever had a teacher you think fondly of it’s this exact quality that you adore, their patience, because this is what it takes to deal with those who don’t know as much as you whether by way of time or experience or intellect. Most teachers have the edge because of time, some experience, a select few intellect, but anyone can be a good teacher with a little patience. 

What I never asked Ben about is poetry, because I don’t give a shit about poetry, which is my way of saying I’ve given up on understanding it. I will never put my fingers on those strings. But I remember seeing two poems he wrote for my sister which she’d framed and hung up on her wall and I read them and I liked them. And I don’t know if they are what the academy would call good poems but I liked them, and I’d been studying writing long enough to know when a writer could see something that I couldn’t, whether in verse or otherwise, and I knew he could see it, both in form and content. He was beyond me.

He knew that, too, he didn’t need a trivia scoreboard to tell him so. I found out once he was writing a script with some of his friends and I’d done grad school long enough to feel like I could contribute to such a project and I asked him about including me in on it and he didn’t. I mean he said sure sure sure but he didn’t, and I don’t think it was because it just a thing for he and his friends, I don’t think it was just my outsider status, like I wouldn’t be able to feel the essence of the project or something, I got the impression that he believed I just couldn’t hack it. That I couldn’t do what he could do. 

I don’t bring this up out of bitterness, or some need to make you think I’m not galvanizing the man needlessly in his final hours, but just to say, nothing bites at my heels like the truth, and that was probably the truth, at the time. It stuck with me because it made me look at something I didn’t want to look at but was nonetheless true. He was driving a car I couldn’t drive, and here I was asking for a shot behind the wheel.

I’ve had a few friends tell me they believe me to be the smartest person they’ve ever known, which I do take to heart, but hey, speaking of ALS, Stephen Hawking. What I wouldn’t give to have that brain of his for even ten minutes, just to feel what it feels like to understand what I cannot understand. 

These days, writing-wise, I feel like I’m solid enough to crap out a romance novel should I ever need the cash badly enough, or to write a screen play I wouldn’t mind having my name on. Short stories, yeah, I think I’ve come across a good one or two, and as for novels, I think I’m in guitarland there, like I can totally imagine what it’s like to have that in my repertoire, but I haven’t hit the bullseye yet. And the man I most want to read my novels never will. 

The real bitch of it is that he’s been communicating for the past however long in yeses and nos. 

But this is not another ALS entry, it is not, I am not here to debate fair and unfair. I only want to acknowledge what is and was and will remain.

Here’s some more physics for you: when all you can give a man is fluids because he can’t chew and the fluids aren’t being processed and he’s puffing up like an X-Men special effect, the doctors subjectively say, Oh, well maybe we should trying something else, and they say let’s try albumen, which sounds like and is the whites of an egg but hopefully means something different in medical terms. We’re going to give him albumen because that’s a component of the blood and that will stay in the blood stream longer and not leak into the tissue and skin as quickly and hopefully that will reduce the swelling. They subjectively say no, we haven’t given him any morphine lately, even though the last time he was communicative one of his specific requests was for morphine because the pain of the surgery was very real and painful despite whether or not one has the ability to react to pain in a recognizable way. 

Perhaps I am going through a bit of an anger stage. Fucking Kubler-Ross. 

Something else? Musical taste. Ben loves so, so many varieties of music, and this too has struck me as a piece of information I could not be privy to, for as long as I’ve known him. He could listen to the most basic of tunes in a straight four-four in a major key and a simplistic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure, like all quarter notes even, all down beat and on beat, and see something beautiful in it. And then at the other extreme there was stuff that didn’t even sound like music to me, atonal, off beat, off key, bizarre.

He hasn’t woken up since the night before last night and my sister’s gut is telling her tonight will be the night. And really, all I came here to do was post one picture I can’t get to right now, because technology. Sure, I could go onto another device and get it and like email it to myself or whatever but I don’t believe in expending effort to change plans just because a plan results in something unexpected, like a 2000 word essay all of a sudden.

But I do believe in physics. There’s been a water bottle in my car, empty, for about four months now, and it’s empty but it’s still under the passenger seat, and when it’s cold the bottle contracts and then if I’m driving for some time and the interior of the car heats up the air in the bottle expands enough to pop it back into form, and about the first five times it happened I didn’t tell Gretchen what was doing it and she just kept saying that isn’t me, and I kept looking at her side-eyed even though I knew exactly. Until my mom was in the car riding with us to the hospital and it popped and I said what it was. I do not know why I cannot tease my mom. She’s got as much of a sense of humor as anyone. 

Anyway. We left the hospital today with the information from the doctors and from my sister that Ben will not hold out much longer, and Gretchen and I were driving back home and we remained in silence mostly, because I’m not much of a talker anyway, especially when I’m driving, and Gretchen has been there this whole time to bear the brunt of the emotional weight for me, at least in the moment, because my emotions arrive much later than they ought to, even on these pills. And then the bottle popped beneath the seat, and I smiled, and she half-laughed with me because it happened just as I was starting to say something meaningless, as most spoken words are. 

Pop. There’s physics again. Reliable. Universal. The earth tumbles along.

I thought maybe I could end there and post the photo, but now Photos is doing something else that will take forever and I have to work tomorrow, so. Funny pictures to come another day.

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That is not all.

The world is not getting any better any time soon. I wish I could be optimistic but it’s not happening. I am profoundly lucky, myself, in a lot of ways. In a lot of others, I feel like a prisoner to time and circumstance. This is probably why I haven’t reproduced yet. I can be the wacky uncle but wacky dad doesn’t cut it. 

If forced, what would I say, I’d say: go get yourself a cabin far far away from everybody else. Get yourself a lot of animals, and a variety of musical instruments, and grow your own food. Lose your virginity at like, what, 16? and then become just a pro masturbator, I mean get epic with it for as long as you can and otherwise just wait that shit out, wait until sex and human interaction don’t matter anymore, alone and away. Do not ever read the news. Assume the worst. The rumble you thought you just felt, that was probably an earthquake burying 100,000 people in Seattle, but it’s okay, you didn’t know any of them. That breeze picking up suddenly from the south, that’s half a million people coughing in your general direction, they’ve all got smog poisoning and skin cancer and these days they put chemo into Life Saver form and sell it over the counter, so maybe that’ll blow over soon. Oh, is the humidity up today? That’s just a sign that global warming has submerged half of Florida, which wouldn’t be so bad if we hadn’t run out of fossil fuels to power al the boats we need now. But this is why you’re up on top of a mountain in the first place, isn’t it, far from the coast. Also, get yourself a good bicycle. 

The politics of it all has got me down, I guess. I was reading an article about this huge quote-un ‘compromise’ that the Republican savior Paul Ryan is proposing, which will likely get passed, and basically what it is is the Republicans conceding to stop being dicks so that the rich people can get all the money. So the oil people will get to sell their oil, and in exchange, they won’t completely defund Planned Parenthood. Nor will they try to prevent the EPA from, well, being the EPA, and they won’t tell every hungry Syrian refugee to fuck right off, buddy, they’ve agreed not to be that monstrous. But they would not give up the grouse. That sage grouse will *not* be listed as endangered, you hear me, you lousy liberal shits??

So, politics is: pretend to be the absolute devil, scare the daylights out of anyone who will listen, then back off slightly just in time to make sure your billionaire overlords get theirs. How do we get away with this behavior, we humans? Short answer: we don’t. It will all come back to bite us, eventually.

I’m starting to believe that this is the curse of being the apex predator. With nothing else out there to thin your numbers for you, evolution becomes unfocused and random, which in turn ensures the advancement of… how can I say this without getting all eugenicisty… let’s just say that within all of us, there must exist a certain amount of DNA that in any other species would’ve been bred out a long time ago. The primary proof of this is money. Giving value to the inherently valueless. Try giving a dollar to a dog. No, bad example, dogs will think it’s food… how bout a squirrel, go open your wallet and donate a fiver to the nearest chipmunk and take a photo of the look he gives you in return and post that on Instagram with the hashtag #thisiswhyiworkfortyaweek. 

Why is gold better than silver? Why is diamond more precious than emerald? Trick questions, you simp. Now you get eaten. 

…he says, typing on his Apple laptop, listening to music on his Sony sound system, wearing his Adidas.

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Just a reminder that the guy who wrote the novel based on the idea J.J. Abrams had, that guy was my thesis director. 

That is all.

That is not all.

Also my undergraduate writing buddy has a writing buddy who had her novel optioned into a movie called Lamb, coming out shortly.

Oh and my other bud from my brief segue into Ohio a few years ago, he moved to California to be roommates with one of the Twenty One Pilots.

Hey fame, how ya doing. You keep walking quick like, passing right by me. No big deal, keep walking, I’ll catch you next time. 

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People I Like

A friend of mine at work told another friend at work about this blog, tonight. Later, this second friend came up to me and said, I learned a secret about you tonight. I said it’s not a secret. By which I meant, it’s not a secret to her. 

You can tell who you like right away, can you not? The primary reason I keep my job is because of the people. We seem to hire right, or at least better than most other places. I’m excited when new people show up to the job, because I know odds are I’m going to click with at least a few of them.

The click is what matters. And it’s unpredictable. Despite the occasional influence of my political views, based in kindergarten, Sesame Street rhetoric, that everyone ought to be your friend but ESPECIALLY those who are different from you, because I guess if that person is different from you than by simple mathematics they’re more likely to be more different from more people than you are since they’re already down one like soul, despite this kind of instinct I’ve cultivated in my 34 years to be more interested in the stories of the dissimilar, which occasionally leads me to question whether I just assume I like someone because I don’t understand them, when actually if they were a white dude from the suburbs I wouldn’t find them the least bit intriguing, despite that minor bit of doubt as to who I’m clicking with and why, I find a pretty wide representative sample of clickers, culturally and ethnically speaking. 

I click more easily with females, perhaps because of my older sisters leading the way in terms of my development as young sprout, and my mom, all of them so distinct but consistent in my child’s eyes, consistent in their own methods of navigating the world as individuals, picking friends not by popularity scores but by whom they could call upon when needed, picking interests by soul-searching, mining themselves for their own talents before settling for what was trendy. I click better with people I respect, and I suppose I can more quickly identify a woman I respect than a man.

Beyond that? There is no categorization possible. 

I have clicked with the wealthy and clicked with the poor, the former more often when they don’t know they’re well off, the latter the same. I can click with any race, any ethnicity, any religion, though if someone leads with their religion I’m put on guard. Still though, not impossible. One of my good friends, Kim, to whom I still owe a birthday call, stomped on me the first day I met her for saying the word ‘Jew,’ which I did, I think, I said Jewish in conversation not as like the pejorative secular slur as it is sometimes used, but in an admittedly weird context, and she called me out on it, as she should have, given that at least to my memory that was back in the heyday of people using that slur as a jest, like wouldn’t-it-be-awful-if-I-really-meant-it, which has thankfully died down, and despite that introduction still to this day I have to remind myself that she is Jewish and I should wish her a happy Chanukah, because I don’t think of her as a category, apt for a filing cabinet. She is a clicker, a friend, one of the closest.

Sometimes I feel a click with people who don’t feel it back as strongly, or if they do they don’t know how to show it, or if they do show it I don’t recognize it because of vast cultural differences. In particular I’m thinking of black people, here. Not like all black people but those with whom I can catch eyes with and communicate, it feels like telepathy sometimes, when you click with somebody, but typically the black people I click with I don’t wind up getting a whole lot closer to, for the above mentioned reasons, I suspect. Doesn’t mean the click ain’t real, though.

I have clicked with single mothers and traditional, almost Evangelical Christian wives. I have clicked with virgins as well as people to whom bondage and blindfolds are so five years ago. Asians, Austrians, Australians, Appalachians. Drug-dependents and straight edgers. Gays and straights and everyone in between (as most people are). Business majors, naval officers, anarchists. People who love me and sometimes people who hate me, at least a little, but they probably wouldn’t care enough to hate me if they didn’t know that I know what they know. And vice versa.

All of this is coming to mind, though, because of someone I never really did find a click with. We even tried to force it a few times, went to watch some of the most recent World Cup games together. We never hit it off like gangbusters, but I am dating someone with whom he did. 

Syed Ali Haider is a published and up-and-coming author, which is why I don’t hesitate to use his name, because I want you to know his name, because you should be reading him anyway, our acquaintance notwithstanding. He is a person I like, a person I respect, and my girlfriend’s former college roommate. They had several nights during the MFA program where it was unspoken what would be happening after class that day, which often, I’m told, was sitting around and watching Friends, but even if it wasn’t that, I can be sure of, without ever having been told a specific story of the like, that there were nights they would get home and start talking and sit around talking and them maybe go to a restaurant and talk and they with their third roommate John Andrews who is a poet you should know might talk until they absolutely had to go to bed because soon it would be time to start this day’s shenanigans all over again, but when they went to bed, in their respective rooms (get your mind out of the gutter, you), they would all feel more satisfied with their lives, because whatever was said that night needed to be said by each of them.

I have had many friends like this and most of them I’ve been foolish enough to let distance and time separate us. Which I only bring up because how I talk about those friends is how Gretchen talks about Ali and John. They three clicked, is the point, and because I am dating a member of that triad I consider Ali to be an honorary clickee of yours truly.

Ali is the occasion for this entry because he posted a social media entry about how the rhetoric of the Republican front-runner for the upcoming presidential election is having a direct effect on his life. And while I have never held any measure of respect for this sudden politician, I have been as fascinated as the next person as to why this rhetoric, not really why it’s working because I know why it’s working, it’s so simple it’s persuasive, but it is very confusing to me how anyone can take what he’s been saying past even the basest level of scrutiny and come out the other side actually believing it. His core constituency doesn’t believe it, I’m convinced, but they are afraid enough to want to stand in the shadow of what they deem to be the biggest balls. 

So if even the people saying they would vote for him are smart enough to know Hitler-esque propaganda when they see it, which I assume they do, then the fascinating part of it, the part that must be fascinating to me because what else is there, is this: does he really believe it himself? Can the man himself actually be this blinded by his own ego? Because, as much as he’s trying to prove the contrary, he is a human being, and evidently social, and he’s plenty old enough to have met enough people that at least some degree of diversity would have been involved, right? So he’s got to know, if he’s got any memory at all, any value system whatsoever that would lead him to making at least two friends in his life, that the people he clicked with were unexpected, unpredictable, if not vastly diverse then at least not out-and-out clones of each other. Right?

If you have two friends. Two people you like, at minimum. You have to be able to see the differences between them. You have to be aware that you can take this friend bowling, but this one doesn’t like it. You must know that, as all good American Christians do, that this particular gift would be better for this friend than it would the other. Two is all it takes! To see and value the possibility inherent in diversity! In fact, to see the necessity of diversity, because if those two friends were carbon copies, why even keep them both around? You wouldn’t! The redundancy would be infuriating!

So, ergo, I present to the jury: he cannot believe it. This man, this blowhard. He cannot believe the vile bilge he spews everyday anew, like some toxic Old Faithful. But he’s demonstrated a willingness to continue doing so as long as it’s his best shot at power. 

The only thing to be done then is to stop promising him this reward. Stop granting him this attention. Stop complimenting his balls. Because while he may not even believe what he’s saying, the fact that he’s ignoring the obvious and being praised for it is convincing others to do the same. To invent a fiction to meet the need of an easy solution to a scary world. Anyone with literally two brain cells to rub together, because two, as I said, is the magic number, therefore anyone beyond a zygote’s development knows that he is lying through his fangs, but by continuing to promote this method of dealing with the problem, we are encouraging the act of lying as an acceptable coping mechanism. We know that the individual is multifaceted, fickle, unknowable, but we permit ourselves the lie of using one characteristic to define them, and therefore fear them, and therefore hate them.

This hatred is putting my friend Ali in danger. His family, in danger. All of it from a lie. I can’t stand it anymore. I won’t even gratify the liar responsible with a namedrop, much less a hashtag. It is unconscionable, and if at all possible I will never mention this man again in my writing or otherwise, because I refuse to take part in that cycle.

But I would love to tell you more about Ali. Too bad we never really clicked. So instead, I will close with this, to my friend at work who just discovered this blog tonight, someone with whom I do feel a click: asalam alaykum. Peace to you, my friend.

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Dis Like

Personally I hate compliments. I don’t know how to take them. I would prefer a cutting insult or a challenge to my overpondered personal axioms such as Capitalism will be the Downfall of Society, or Snakes are Great. Even if it’s something I’ve worked very hard on, spent a great deal of time and effort making great, and you tell me it’s great, I’m like flubba-flubba-flubba no it’s not.

But every post I put up on social media is subsequently re-graded in my own mind based upon the number of likes it gets. 

I hate this, I hate this. My own participation in the celebrity-worship culture. Not just popularity but lazy approval, that’s what I need, that’s what drives me. That’s what drives the internet anymore. The fact that ‘like’ can be a noun drives me up the wall. A like. One like. Multiple likes. Fuuuuuuuuuuck it. People work harder on witty comments than they do on most anything else, their jobs, their families. Why is this? Because nobody knows how to take a compliment? Because our hyper-actualization-based upbringing (You’re so great at everything! You can do whatever you want, and so can everybody else!) is more addictive than we care to admit? I remember growing up thinking I was the most valuable player in every category of everything, and this still affects me today. It didn’t bother me (too much) in college being put into the groups with the lazy slackers of the class because then I could do everything and do it right. I always prefer to drive than passenge. If ever on a plane where the pilot heart attacks out and everybody is screaming for their mommies, I would fight with knives out to be the one tabbed with attempting to land the thing, like I would strangle people and stomp babies until granted cockpit access, control over the last-ditch attempt to continue my life, and I guess everybody else’s. Because dying in a flaming crater in my mind is preferable to relying on any other nobody to do the simplest thing anywhere close to correctly. Let alone land a 747. 

Is this narcissism? Solipsism? If either, then why the hell do I care if my photos push the limit of lowest common denominator? Snakes are indeed Great, and anytime I see one I take as many photos as my safety will allow, but given the choice, and I presume I do still have one, I fill my Instagram with cat pictures. 

As far as I can tell, this is the only reason Twitter exists. To instill in a semi-anonymous audience the primordial but minimal half-second release of tension that results in a half-second of reflection on said release and its cause, hence appreciation of said slight taste of dopamine and the retributive reward of a click, i.e. the like, which for the original author of the tweet results in a one- to two-second sensation of self-satisfaction, perhaps four times the release of dopamine in comparison, hence the payoff always comes with heaps of interest in tow. But it’s dopamine of a different flavor — perhaps serotonin? I don’t know my brain chemicals — like not the electrocardiogram blip of brief instability followed by a payoff swing in the other direction, i.e. the reason we laugh, but a more unidirectional move, the world shifting more towards agreeing how great and right we are, or I am. 

But still minuscule! Still temporary, even effervescent on a long enough time frame. I don’t hashtag much because of this exact scenario: I had a stranger like a photo I posted 203 weeks ago on Instagram because I had hashtagged it “anime” because I was watching I think Trigun at the time, but my cat was asleep on my lap at the time, was the occasion for the photo, clearly. This person’s profile is all anime stills, so obviously the like had not much to do with me but the hashtag, but even so I couldn’t help but take it personally, like you moron! You imbecilic cretin! Why are you reaffirming that person I was four years ago? He’s nothing to me now! I don’t live there anymore, I don’t own that TV, I even gave away that cat! Which was one of the shittiest things I’ve ever done, by the way, I was strapped for cash and about to move across the country and as much as I loved her I couldn’t imagine surviving for the next three months before I finally got another paycheck, not really for food and litter stuffs but I couldn’t find anywhere affordable in that stupid town that allowed cats! Like anywhere! Every place in my budget was no pets allowed, which isn’t to mention the pet deposit, and basically I chose to leave her behind, in a good home of course but not with me, not with the person who rescued her from the PetSmart and carried her all around that store picking out toys and scritching her neck and telling her everything would be okay, not with the one remaining of the only two human parents she’d ever known. I mean, it’s taken some time but for the most part I’ve forgiven myself for this, even knowing in retrospect I could’ve found a way, but still! That person was a shittier version of me, and you’re liking this? What’s wrong with you? Had you even glimpsed at my more recent work, my more recent cats? Or did you set out to prove yourself a complete and total incompetent, because buddy, you’ve succeeded.

This is the other problem with social media, I think, with the ‘like’ systems so prevalent on the internet, is that it fuels an ideology of unacknowledged transience. Nothing lasts. Until it gets repeated tomorrow, without recognition or often even awareness of the previous iteration’s influence. Every post is new, now, here, gone, forgotten. I would say this fact is so valued that it’s celebrated, but really, just, nobody thinks about it. Until that transience is unmasked as permanence, and then holy shit, the world explodes. Even public figures who ought to know better get used to 99.99% of the nonsensical, unfiltered opinions they put out there getting ignored and the slate wiped clean on a daily basis. Until one selfie-in-your-underwear becomes your permanent Wikipedia pic. Which is so counterintuitive to what I represent, as a self-professed novelist, someone who believes that the aspects of the self I choose to reveal, the art that represents me, has the right and the duty to be as edited, honed, and perfected as possible. Someone who values the artifice in art.

So why do I permit myself the dalliance? Probably because it’s an easy surrogate for what I actually want. If I ever publish a book, I don’t want glowing reviews, I don’t want to go to book signings and have people gush how touching, how personally gratifying, how life-altering, how meaningful. I just want a brief glance in my direction, accompanied by some knowing nod or wink or something, affirming my status as a worthy thing in this world. Simple extant appreciation. I am here; do I deserve to be? Check yes or no, then pass this note back and go on with your day, please.

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St. Louis homers in the top of the first.

Is there such a thing as Live Tumbling? I’m Live Tumbling. Cubs fail to respond, still 2-0, bad guys. 

I hate St. Louis. Not the city, though I only know the city through the team, but I hate the team. An undeniably conservative team. So very Tom Brady, all appearance, shady underbelly. So very high school football team. The people they draft and trade for all seem to buy into the system, but I played on a high school football team and I gave all appearances of buying into the system and I resisted the dark side, so I can’t hate the individual players, although I do hate some of them. Not in like a wish-for-death sort of way, but pure sports hate.

Shit, what inning is it. Cubs are up again. Pitching for the Cardinals is John Lackey, who couldn’t be more perfect for this team. I’ve always hated Lackey. Announcers just said he looked into his dugout in disgust, and that’s what I’ve always disliked about him, his face seems graced with permanent disgust, a bucktoothy sneer, a bully’s face. He pitches inside like a bully, which itself is fine, being a bully pitcher, but his bully face takes all the dignity out of it. Mnyahhh, I’m a bully, see? Mnnyaahhh. And his posture is all shoulders, very hunchy, almost asthmatic, not that all major league pitchers are impeccable athletes but come on. Lackey carries himself like he’d lose a fight to wet paper and then complain about it, unfair, see? One of those kids, back in the day, call a foul on every drive to the basket, whine about the pick of the teams even when he was the picker.

Cubs first and second, pitcher batting. Nothing good can come– Jason Hammel singles! 2-1, two outs. Hammel I think is the x-factor in this series…

Javier Baez! Home run! Cubs lead 4-2! Suck on that, Lackey!

Actually I’m no Cubs fan, either. Anybody but the Cardinals. If the Cardinals never won another game, I would still relish every loss, every time. I don’t hold a lot of grudges, but this is one of them. I’m not even sure where it came from. I feel like I was born with it. The St. Louis arch makes me feel nauseous. I’ve never liked birds all that much. Busch sounds like a curse word from biblical times. Just, everything, everything about them sucks. I respect Ozzie Smith but I feel like he was in a situation he didn’t understand fully, like Phylicia Rashad on the Cosby Show. 

Two down in the top half of the third. Nobody on, seems like Hammel has settled down a bit. He just walked Heyward, but that may have been semi-intentional, what with the wind apparently pushing towards right field, give the power lefty nothing to work with.

My grandma likes the Cubs, or I thought she liked the Cubs because my grandpa liked the Cubs. I had a memory of my mom telling me her mom was still watching the Cubs and the Reds even after my grandpa passed, but I asked her about it a couple days ago and my mom said her mom probably wouldn’t have the interest to follow two teams. My grandpa though. Back in the early cable days – Heyward just got picked off first – WGN was one of the only cable stations, and they showed all the Cubs games, so. I remember being jealous of my grandparents’ cable because it included MTV, whereas our cable boasted only CMT and Nickelodeon, and I was quickly becoming too old for Nickelodeon and I longed to see what the Beavis and Butthead show was all about. I actually watched an episode or two once when staying at my grandparents’ house, which I always thought of as my grandma’s house, like it was her domain, I think because most of the time when we went there it was for holidays and thus meals and presents which were my grandma’s territory undeniably, but I couldn’t understand the appeal of the Mike Judge cartoon, and I was trying, really trying. The ugly animation, the music videos that seemed to be chosen more for their mockability than their musical merit. I didn’t get it. 

Well, writing warm-up achieved. Gretchen is home now. Time to go.

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Sometimes I take to Tumblr and scroll down rapidly. I give each photo post about .2 seconds, each text post about .5, and I go down, and I go down, and I go. A friend of mine fills himself up on poetry until he’s about to pop and has to let some back out again. I almost never read fiction before I write fiction. No. I turn on my music, a delicate mix of songs I know backwards and songs I don’t know at all, and then I blaze my mind out with overstimulation. I read no fiction, no poetry, I pause to reflect on no brilliant artwork or phrase or gif or political cause, I get the lightest of touches on the shoulder from all of these things begging for my attention, and when I can finally ignore them all, when I have convinced myself that there is too much in the world to care about right now, then I can let go. Then I can submit to the reality of humility. 

Tell me, brain. Go ahead and describe to me what you see, when I finally convince you you’re not everywhere, everything.

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Walk in the Park

I’m trying to convince myself to rescue my characters, from stasis, from un-life. I think that will get me moving again. That’s the theory, anyway. I’m telling myself they are suffering, suffocating from not having their stories fleshed out and completed. Convincing myself they matter is going to be key. I don’t think it’s an ailment specific to them, in my head, not being cared enough about. I’m finding with age comes a propensity to distance oneself. Space between me and the stuff I care about, please, says my brain, put it over there for a while, I’m tired of thinking. Thinking leads to worrying and worrying doesn’t change anything. 

I came across a homeless man today in the woods on a walk with my dog and my girlfriend, we were showing her the trail that we’ve been taking lately, seldom used and beautiful, views of the city and no one around to spoil them. I was letting them lead on the second leg, back into the woods, and not ten yards from this parking lot of the abandoned and unkempt former ice skating rink, so the story goes, is this man with long silver hair covered in blankets, not getting up but lifting his head off the ground enough to bank it towards us, to address us, to tell us not to be alarmed, he’s just homeless, illegally evicted a couple days ago and he won’t be here but a couple days more. His hair was shiny like it had been recently conditioned, his chin shaven close and clean. Neither of us had been worried about him, but what he might think the dog was trying to do to him with his enthusiastic, pouncing hello to his new friend on the ground. I don’t think the man was wearing much in the way of clothing, is why he didn’t move from his spot beneath the blankets. 

I worry about him and I worry about the refugees in Europe and people in my own city whom my eyes try their best to gloss over, and I miss religion, I miss the selfish comfort of a prayer, asking favors from a higher power to do what I cannot summon the will to. If I were a different person with the gift of fluent conversation and the ability to resist paralysis via eye contact I would talk to so many people. I would hope to still write but I would be a different kind of writer, I would collect stories, I would talk to the homeless man in the park who in the vast covert acreage chooses to camp within pissing distance of the parking lot, the man who wants to be found, and pitied, but will find his own charity, thanks, he will tug on his own bootstraps but a little venting would be nice, would get him going, back on his naked feet again. I would do him that favor, and I would join the Red Cross and get myself to Serbia and lend an ear to the people without the benefit of such a valuable citizenship as myself, I would call up my old friends to comfort them upon the passing of one of our better members to colon cancer, my age, my hair color, my old school and now dead in the ground, and I didn’t know him all that well even when I walked the same hallways as he did but I wish I could overpower the niceties and pleasantries and clichés that would absorb all words and leave me gasping into the phone, looking for a way out, a way off, with nothing effectively said and in the end leaving the other party with the distinct impression I had only called as my own form of prayer, to make myself feel better, which would not be the case, not at all. 

I want the world to know it has a friend in me.

I watched a TED talk today about drugs and addiction which culminated in the phrase “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection.” I’m not addicted to any hard drugs or very many soft ones but I feel like I easily could be, I have the personality for it I think, if not the constitution. I watch too much television, probably, drink too much, which, if the theory is correct, is a substitution for making meaningful contact with other people. In grad school there were other people to whom writing fiction was meaningful, and now there are not so many, if any at all, so writing fiction is not fulfilling the connection role it used to. But I’m getting closer to fine, I think. People are reading this, or telling me they are reading this, once in a while, and this is what I need. If I had enough people reading this, I would stop and stoop down by the naked man in the park, selfishly seeking a story, not in the altruistic fashion I mentioned above but the effect for him would be the same in any case. If I knew enough about him and could create his character here vividly on the page that would be a valuable stepping stone. To get back to fiction, to remind myself of the blurriness of the line between the stories we invent and the stories we invent but pretend there’s such a thing called truth backing them up.

There isn’t, though. It’s all subjective. Maybe what I called gray hair you’d call white, where I saw a naked man you’d say he was merely fighting off the chill of illness and he hasn’t got long in this world, if you were there, if you’d seen him. So this means that the true stories are less true than the fiction stories, because in my story his hair was a reflective gray and he was at most wearing his boxers and socks, and in fiction there’s no disputing that. You have to get into my head, or there is no story at all.

I have a manager who likes to tell me he’d love to know what’s going on in my head, and god’s truth I’d love him to know, too. I need to finish this novel, because I need to start the next one, because I don’t know any other fulfilling way to live, given what I’ve been given, in this body, this mind.

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Matt Demon, All of a Sudden

In my first round of graduate school, I had to create a reading list of books put together from a more bigger list of books, stuff preapproved by the graduate committee for suitably educating their fiction writers in the ways of fiction writing. I made my list and submitted it and the committee rejected my list, made out of their list. They said it didn’t have enough female writers on it.

Because I don’t like rejection, I immediately and grumpily dismissed their dismissal as nonsensical. My list was perfectly fine, thank you. Bunch of jerks. After some cool-down time, I decided that I was not wrong in my reaction, because the logic of the rejection was unsound. This was a list of fictional works, after all, but the rejection was based on the authors’ diversity, not the protagonists or the plots or any of the characters. Content was not a factor. So the message here became white men can only write authentically about white men, black men about black men, and so on. Which I found offensive on a number of levels. To say Toni Morrison’s white male characters are inaccurate, or not as worthy of study as her black female characters, offended me. Now, the content of her fiction does focus more on the black female characters, especially the book on my list (Sula), so there would be less to study in the other races and genders, less nuance, fewer layers and complications, surely. But to suggest they are the only characters that can possibly matter because of Morrison’s race and gender would be ludicrous. 

Furthermore, by that rationale, shouldn’t I be restricting myself to studying only white male authors anyway, if that’s all the diversity I myself would be capable of bringing to the academic table? 

At the same time, the poet I was dating brought to my attention a scandal going on in the poetry community that offended her sensibilities as a female writer. Apparently some white male poet had written an epic poem from the perspective of I want to say a Caribbean black female. Like a whole big thing, lots of words, homeric, obviously he thought he had this voice nailed, which is what was so offensive about it to many people, the presumption. As she’s explaining it to me in her what-kind-of-asshole voice, I’m thinking, me. Me. I’m that kind of asshole. I cannot limit myself to my own race and gender, my own experience, for one because my own experience is not all that compelling, and for two because the whole reason I got into writing in the first place was to try to recreate the reading experience, which is to put myself in other people’s shoes, except with writing books, you get to pick the shoes. Size, color, laces, everything.

Flash forward to today, in which I see my favorite birthday-sharing actor (because fuck Chevy Chase, although Sigourney Weaver is pretty great too), Matt Damon, coming under fire for “interrupting a black female writer to explain to her what diversity is.” Which makes me a little nauseous because I love Matt Damon unapologetically, We Bought a Zoo notwithstanding. He’s one of the most tolerant, forward-thinking, level-headed voices I’ve ever heard coming out of Hollywood. If we’re going to have celebrities, they might as well be like Matt Damon, that’s my opinion.

I’m having a hard time finding an unedited clip of the conversation. Most articles are posting the same tweeted 20 or 30 second edited clips, where the actual interruption appears to be more due to editing than anything, so I’m reserving my opinion on that one. But what he seems to be trying to say is a poorly worded version of what my younger self was arguing. It’s not a matter of who’s telling the story, so long as the story is told well, as well as it can possibly be told. Erase the author, leave the story. That’s the entire job of the writers and production team. Gender and race cannot and should not factor into talent, vision, work ethic. The best director should get the job, and to inject diversity into the project, we should be more worried about the on-screen representation of diverse voices than a diversity that can’t be seen in the final project.

Except, I don’t think that’s what I was saying. Not exactly. In fact I think that’s pretty ass-backwards to what I was saying. I despise the token black guy syndrome that’s been the predominant way to preempt accusations of racism since at least the eighties, not only in movies but in sitcoms, commercials, magazine ads. So suggesting diversity is the responsibility of the casting, no, I can’t get behind that. The characters’ only job is to be the best characters they can be. I’m not even going to prejudge the fact that the only black character in the movie is a prostitute who gets slapped by her white pimp, even knowing this is a comedy and chances are high that there is supposed to be something funny about this scene. Which I’m having a hard time imagining. But, I can’t know that these aren’t the right character choices for this particular scene in this particular movie without seeing it in context first.

Because he is right, if Damon really is attempting to make this argument at all, that the goal should be to make the absolute best art you can make. To tell the best story, the funniest jokes, to dramatize the … most dramatic drama, I guess. You don’t get that by treating diversity like you do silverware at a place setting. Because sometimes the meal is soup! Just a big bowl of soup! Why even bother getting out the forks and knives!? Leave them in the drawer, that way we don’t get confused and have to wash them later for no reason!

My younger self was not exactly correct in his animosity toward the graduate committee, either — though I was not wrong. I will not admit wrongitude in this case, no, but more a failure to take into account the bigger picture. Which is the necessity of such a committee in the first place. Someone has to have the responsibility the artist should not have to concern herself with, that the art itself shouldn’t have to address. Like, you can’t have soup for every meal. Or, you can, I guess, but not every meal is soup, if you look around the restaurant you’re going to discover that most of the meals are not in fact soup.

This does not change my original point, that I have the right to be a soup restaurant as much as anyone else. Even if making soup is not traditional for my ‘people,’ or whatever, if that’s what I’m feeling deep in the soul of my kitchen at that particular time, you can’t tell me that I also have to put a lovely tiramisu on my menu as well, nor can you expect it of me just because people of similar demographics have made some real mouth-watering tiramisu in the past. 

However. That being said. Let’s say me and Toni Morrison come up with the exact same delicious soup, let’s call it Soupla, let’s say we have the same recipe publisher and the same deadline and we both drop off our creations on the same day at the same time and even say hello politely to each other in the elevator. I think Matt Damon and I would agree that the publisher would be wrong to say to me, Hey hey now, wait a minute, I was expecting a tiramisu from you, what is this delicious but unexpected crap? and he would also be wrong to say to Toni Morrison This is perfect! This is exactly what I expect out of you, and by ‘you’ I mean a chef of your particular genetic makeup, not ‘you’ as an individual person with a unique life and experiences. 

**Disclaimer: if making delicious soups is a stereotype of black women, I am unaware of it and am using this example completely arbitrarily, let it be known.

Now let’s assume that the recipe publishing industry, like most industries, has been dominated by the caucasian male for a long long time, based not as much on merit but more on the legacy of a willful cruelty left behind by generations of caucasian male ancestors, sous chefs and sauciers willing to crush the competition by any means necessary until their brand of cooking became the standard. Tiramisu now, tiramisu forever! so sayeth the 18th century forebears of today’s aspiring culinary creators. True, we don’t live in that era anymore, we most of us recognize the folly in mistaking a lack of scruples in achieving popularity for inherent worth, but it’s a legacy that will continue to hinder the human species for a long time unless we take steps to rectify it. Which is what diversity is, I think. 

I’m not telling Matt Damon he shouldn’t hire the best people for the job, here, but there is something to be said for the recipe publisher that picks Toni’s soup recipe over mine. Because what’s that going to do to the industry? What message will it send?

When Obama was running for president, I said to my friend Shannon that after looking at some of Obama’s policies and his voting record and his affinity for playing to the establishment sometimes and his participation in the military-industrial complex, I wasn’t sure that he would prove to be nearly as revolutionary a president as I had originally hoped. I was afraid things would quickly go back to normal, that he’d play the minority-diversity card for the elections but continue coddling big business and sticking it to the poor, he’d talk big but act little, he’d basically turn out to be every bit the politician I’d originally Hoped he’d be able to Change. And in a way I was right about that, but what she said was even more true, that it didn’t matter at all what his policies actually turned out to be when he was in office, that the historical significance of finally having a black president would far outweigh whatever mistakes he might make. Hopefully one day such a factor won’t be important, but I think she was dead-on correct, judging by the backlash against him and the rise in brash racism and the unbelievable rise in veiled racism I’ve seen in political discourse since the election. We are still years away from where Damon apparently thinks we are.

What Matt Damon is losing out on by ignoring race and gender before race and gender can be ignored is the benefit of dissension by more people like Effie Brown, which is, just, the absolute most valuable thing, I cannot stress that enough. Maybe he was right and the people he’s picked for his staff were smart enough to notice the white pimp/black prostitute issue, but evidently no one in the white room was disturbed by it enough to address it properly. Again, I’m just basing this on a 20-second clip, and maybe this will turn out to be the funniest scene in this movie. Somehow. But he’s not allowing for criticism, opting instead for the familiar safety and privilege of his process, and that gets you nowhere, that’s regressive, that’s worthless.

What would I lose out on by having my recipe rejected solely in the name of diversity? Would I have to get more creative? Would I be forced to go outside the soup box, go to other restaurants, experience other cuisines, delve into the unfamiliar, or otherwise be forced to reckon with the unknown? It’s very hard to admit that we don’t know what we don’t know. But without that influx of diversity into the production process, I may very well never invent tiramisoup.

I think maybe I should stop writing these entries when I’m hungry.

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Here’s Colbert. Strutting out onto the stage after a pre-taped, insanely clever opening that’s melodramatic and silly and tells all these CBS viewers that the political thunderbolt that was the Colbert Report is not about to take over the conservative-friendly Letterman timeslot, but also hints that he’s still a man with opinions and he’s not so much dulling his wit’s blade as he is swinging it in more directions than just at the Fox News pundit’s wall of stupidity. Also there will be lots of singing. Dancing. Musical numbers, musical guests, special animated shorts, maybe some ice dancing, whatever Stephen finds entertaining that week will be fair game, but don’t worry conservatives he wants you in on the jokes. If he does make fun of you, he’ll do so in a way that allows you to laugh at yourselves. So there, CBS execs, are you happy now? Can we get on with the show?

Then George Clooney comes out and talks about his feet for some reason. I don’t know, my ESP is getting a little wonky.

Next it’s Jeb Bush, and Stephen says something funny about his cowboy boots and implies George W. was the greatest president of all time and Jeb could never live up to him, but by all means try, and when exactly do you find time to polish your teeth so thoroughly because they are simply sparkling, sir. Also how did that raffle go. Back to George Clooney, whom Stephen has convinced to do a bit with his shirt off. Like there’s a hot tub or something.

Next Jon Stewart comes out and makes jokes about getting lost stumbling around the city because it’s been 17 years since he’s been let out of his cave. Then what, a musical guest? Are we running a little long, here? Red light flashing? Time to wrap it up. Stephen thanks his wife and says sorry Matt Damon, we ran out of time.

These are my expectations. I hope I’m lowballing it. I hope he blows me away. My hopes for Trevor Noah are only slightly higher than they were when Larry Wilmore was announced to take Colbert’s old slot, and though Wilmore has delivered in a lot of ways, exceeded my expectations and delivered a lot of poignant political commentary besides, particularly during the worst racially divided year in my own personal memory in this country, he still hasn’t challenged my brain or stimulated the country like Colbert could with a single eyebrow raise. I blame the panel format. They pigeon-holed themselves a bit, there.

And Trevor Noah just doesn’t strike me as very funny. I hope I’m wrong.

So come on, Colbert. Do not worry about the channel or the format. Treat it like basic cable. Experiment. Blow some minds.

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Cracks

I was unaware that Mt. McKinley was named before the dude was even president. Some gold prospector started calling it that during the campaign. So that would be akin Niagara Falls being renamed right now to, like, Trump Falls or something. Very poor taste. Denali, welcome back.

Apparently since Pres. McKinley was from Ohio, it was Ohio putting the pressure on politicians not to change the name back. But Ohio, despite being my home state, can compete with anywhere else in terms of capacity for stupidity, I will readily admit.

My favorite part of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is when they track down all the people who said something bad about them on the internet and then beat them up. Jay reads their comment to them and asks if they wrote it, and they say yes, every time. This is what I loved about the Daily Show, too, is that it would prove time and time again that relatively normal looking people had the capacity to not only hold bizarre and absurd opinions, typically based in ignorance, but they would defend them. On camera. Knowing that the edited version would likely not do them any favors in terms of support or validation. Then the Daily Show correspondent would get to play the fantasy role we all imagine ourselves in when we reply in the comments section anywhere on the internet, because why else would you bother, they get to say these things that prove their antagonist to be utterly incompetent. And the audience cheers, and these normal-cum-foolish looking people always stick to their guns, they never listen, after all these years you might think the supply would dwindle but no.

Jay and Silent Bob was even a little better, in some respects, because the villains were not so villainous as their comments would suggest. It would be little kids, old ladies, fat men, none of their faces mean-looking, none of them cursing or being confrontational. They just answered the door, confirmed their identity, confirmed their authorship of one single comment, and then Jay would toss his shit list in the air and start wailing on them. He didn’t give them the opportunity to prove their ignorance or incompetence in person. It was a nearly indiscriminate ass-beating, no judgment involved, really, no trial for them to offer up a defense. Which makes you suspect that probably some of these people are innocent of the crime, or at least they may have just been having a bad day that day, blowing off a little steam between volunteer shifts at the local orphanage. Didn’t matter. Punched in the face.

My buddy Dave was telling me the other day he can’t believe how Trump is in the lead for the Republican nomination. I got over my own capacity for being shocked at human behavior when Bush won the election for a second term (technically, his first electoral win). Humans are not done evolving yet, but it’s a hard thing to reckon with. Even the most educated of us don’t like to believe what’s right in front of them. Like how at least 90% of sinus infections are viral instead of bacterial, but if you go to the doctor they’ll give you antibiotics anyway. There is a lot of unnecessary death yet to come in humanity’s future. Not saying Trump is going to be the cause, but all the support he’s getting is ample evidence.

Like, okay, speaking of antibiotics, the more we wipe out all the weak bacteria via our current antibiotics, the more evolution gets a helping hand, since only the bacteria that survive are left to reproduce, to pass along that sweet genetic code we don’t know how to kill yet, and it becomes a race between science and natural selection. Maybe we’ll win, or maybe we’ll run up against a terrible murder-bacteria we can’t figure out how to kill. Either way, it’s irresponsible and selfish for a patient to say yes, give me those antibiotics just in case I’m in that 10%. I’m going to eliminate the competition and allow the most dangerous  strains to be the sole contributors to the next generation because there’s a small chance it will help me feel better a couple days earlier. It’s irresponsible and selfish for doctors to prescribe them, too. And this is the side of us that Donald Trump represents, the in-the-moment, me-first attitude that disregards any awareness of the passage of time. Past and future matter not, only the now, the right now, and the immediate vicinity too. And this is why we’re all going to die.

Maybe not all, but a lot of people, will die, because we have not evolved enough yet. This is not a metaphor. Human beings by the millions will die because we are not living sustainably or responsibly. We are not the strong bacteria that we think we are. We will be wiped out, a lot of us, and it will be our own fault, and there is not a force on earth strong enough to prevent this inevitable evolutionary curve. But I didn’t come here to write about that. I was just trying to explain why there is so much misogyny on the internet.

Not like I’m perfectly evolved, myself. Yesterday I ordered the headphones that I’ve long coveted because I got sucked in by a one-day sale, which saved me like $40 or something, but then today my rent check that I’d already given to my landlord was more than I had left available in my checking account. And he’d already deposited it by the time I texted him. Because I couldn’t even look one single day into the future with enough clarity of vision not to buy those headphones, I almost cost myself whatever the overdraft fee would’ve been, certainly everything I’d saved on the headphones and probably more, or even perhaps had the check bounce completely and an angry landlord on my hands, and probably an angrier girlfriend. 

There is really not much of a difference between people, intelligence-wise. The lower 10% and the highest 10% probably all tie their shoes the same way. I saw a woman walking a mentally-challenged younger woman across the street the other day, an intersection with a traffic light, and the older woman saw the light change and started pulling the younger woman left to cross with the light perpendicular instead of continuing straight. When they got to the other side she starting shouting and scolding, waiting on the next light to turn, still grasping her partner by the arm, gesticulating wildly with her cigarette hand. They were dressed similarly, white tops and jeans, and the older woman so clearly felt she was in a place of intelligence and privilege and needed to force her education upon the younger, because she had a clear memory of how intersections work and how they must be crossed to maximize safety and efficiency, and the younger one did not have this information readily accessible if at all.

To me this illustrates the most significant difference between humans, how much of an ability we have to recall from the past and learn from it and allow it to shape our behavior. The people I consider the smartest only have a better memory and a greater willingness to allow the past to inform their decisions. Hardly any of us are able to negotiate the future, and that ought to be our most identifiable trait in one another, our fallibility, our near limitless capacity to misjudge how any given situation will turn out. The older woman at the intersection felt so superior, but I guarantee just a block’s worth more foresight on her part would’ve prevented that awkward crossing she was so adamantly yelling about into her younger companion’s ear.

All of which is just to say, we are a shitty, self-destructive species in a lot of ways. Men especially. I don’t go on Twitter very much because I do not need any more reminders of how awful we can be. Even the next host of the Daily Show was making misogynistic jokes on Twitter not too long ago, because how could he ever have predicted where he would be in five years? Much less your average Joe Tweeter. Why would I expect young Joe to anticipate slightly older Joe, to remember he has a mother, or a grandmother, or perhaps a daughter, now or in his future, whom he will love beyond words and would murder the first fool to call her a cunt in any context? I know more momma’s boys than I can count, and yet, and yet.

What I live for are the surprises. Today I was walking down the sidewalk and I smelled pot pretty strongly. Ahead of me I saw three youngish men in dirty clothes sitting legs-out on the sidewalk against a building, this along Carson Street, lots of foot traffic. I was trying to identify the location of the smell and these three were the prime suspects, but I didn’t expect them to be smoking the joint right there, live as a traffic report. The one lighting the marijuana cigarette saw me staring (I wasn’t hiding my gaze) and as he passed it to his friend said “What’s going on? Just trying to enjoy the afternoon.“ I said “I can see that,” and I kept walking, but I was smiling about it, because the history lesson that all of these boy-men should know quite well and ought to allow to modify their behavior is pretty obvious. This is not a difficult future to predict, how poorly this decision could turn out for them. And maybe they will get arrested and cited, maybe it will turn out exactly like it ought to, and perhaps they will come to regret their brazenness when they’re trying to get a job in ten years but can’t because of their record of drug arrests. But in the moment, it felt like a protest, like they were trying to prove a point. That nobody gives a shit except the people whose job it is to give one. Or maybe that they could get away with it because they were white. Who knows.

In any case, it was encouraging. People who see the cracks in the system are encouraging. I try to imagine myself sometimes with money and more privilege that I even have now, which is plenty, but the money part. I would like to think I’d be the coolest rich person ever. I would give money to the right places, the unexpected saviors of humanity, some invention or entertainment that would not only bring us together, above and beyond the conflicts of race and class and gender and state, but also get us to work together towards our own evolution, taking it out of natural selection’s hands, deciding on our own how to live right before the planet decides for us.

But probably I’d just buy a lot of headphones.

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Warning: Trigger

There is just so, so much to cover. I can’t even keep track of it all. Stuff I need to write about:

  • misogyny online
  • quantum physics and how it pertains to ALS
  • kittens
  • trigger warnings
  • guns
  • national dog day
  • Scrabble
  • Jon Stewart/John Oliver/Stephen Colbert
  • the Confederate flag
  • probably religion is due
  • antidepressant update

How bout let’s go for a twofer.

Went for a walk today with Gretchen, wanting to check out the South Side, Carson Street to be specific. I’d been down there the other night to write, stopped at a coffee shop and a hookah bar and wanted to see what else they’ve got going for them, namely because my birthday is coming up in a month give or take and I need a Thursday karaoke destination that won’t require me to turn my first born over to Uber afterward. 

We sat down for a steak sandwich. Gretchen asked if I’d heard about Virginia today. Anymore this is turning into madlibs for conversation starters, in terms of gun violence. Did you hear about (state) today? (Number of) people were shot. They got it on (type of video). I told her yes I’d heard, no I didn’t watch it, after that Cincinnati campus cop and the South Carolina in-the-back-while-running-away cop I’m done with murder videos for a while, thanks. She says, Apparently he was live-tweeting it. I said oh my god. No I didn’t hear that part. Which nearly sent me into a introvert spiral, that fact, that this is the country we live in now, this is the society, this is how we do, but no, I resist it, I’m waiting for my cajun-seasoned meal, trying to think more about the weather, honest to god.

The local news was on the bar’s television. Not a minute later I glance up at it and see a handgun, first-person perspective, firing at a woman and I know I just saw the footage without asking to see it, without being warned I was about to see it. Then they show who is apparently the killer and then the killer’s Facebook page saying something to the effect of hey look guys I caught the whole thing on video myself, because I was fed up, I was justified, and posterity will thank me.

Now, for me, the trigger is not the violence. I have been, far as I can tell, completely desensitized to violence over the years. My brain even lusts after it, to an extent, in movies and entertainment. Tonight when we got home, we watched Planet Earth: Shallow Seas, and there’s a part where a fur seal is attacking these penguins, and Gretchen was very put out by this, but I was like, what, this is nature, this is what happens. As the seal, like my pit bull with his toy football, is whipping these birds back and forth by the neck, trying to severe a vertebra or two and render swift death. I do not react to blood. Human, penguin or otherwise. I occasionally will turn away to joint or ligament damage replays on sports telecasts because I’ve had my shoulder out of socket and the pain — after six hours — was such a life-altering event that I can’t always completely block that out. But most pain, no. Violence, no. Death, no. I’m not afraid of it.

For me, seeing someone murdered on television via handgun triggers my mental bile reflex because of the avalanche of stupidity that will inevitably follow. And I don’t mean stupidity, I guess, so much as a clear and discernible lack of empathy, by everyone, for everyone involved in this. (Although stupidity too, because guns kill people, they have no other function, this is why armies carry them into wars because they end lives and that’s how wars are won, you want to handle firearms go join the fucking army and if that’s a bridge too far then excuse yourself from the social contract right now and give up your money and your possessions and your safety and your relatively secure future which includes the high likelihood you’ll get the unbelievable privilege to die in a sanitary hospital bed from some preventable disease you’ve brought upon yourself watching reruns of any show, any fucking show you like, while your liver fails and you ride the morphine train out of this existence, please, and I’m serious, give all that up and go take your murder machine and live in the woods with zero human contact except for those other insane lead-lovers who will be keeping your head in the crosshairs hoping to gain access to your particular tree dwelling, because you cannot, you cannot have both, we cannot have both.)

The first-person perspective of it really rocked me, as if I don’t grant empathy enough to killers, because dear god why, my brain must know, what could have possibly led you to this. It’s a problem the killers themselves rarely will be consciously aware of, despite what they say. Gretchen said, just before the footage caught me unawares, that his coworkers had referred to black people as monkeys. Then the news was showing some of his own rationalizations, accessed all too easily via social media, about how the South Carolina church shooting was the last straw, but I mean really? Is that as deep as our empathy reserves go, we think this is the answer to the why? Because he said so, this is the be-all end-all of truth? This is not Hollywood, this fucker was no John McClain, die-harding his way to redemption, not even in his own mind. The hero doesn’t off himself at the end of the movie, because the hero knows he’s the hero, and this guy knew he was the villain.

I’m not here to say I know why he did it, and I’m not trying to suggest race was not involved, because it certainly was, probably on multiple levels and probably most of which injustices he wouldn’t have even put into his top five because he’s experienced them all his life and they don’t even register anymore. This was a hasty, poorly thought-out plan made all too easy because of access to a firearm. The real question, beyond the obvious one about GUNS GUNS GUNS EVERYWHERE GUNS WHY ALL THE GUNS, is the one that requires some empathy. You don’t do the most extreme thing until you believe it’s the last option. What made him believe that? How did he wind up in this situation? All I’m really trying to say here is who the fuck is going to be responsible for trying to figure all of that out? Especially after the next handgun murder goes viral tomorrow? And the one after that, etc.

I did not want to think about this today. Which isn’t to say I’m special, or something like that, like this is someone else’s problem, because it’s everyone’s problem, this non-stop gun violence in this country, that’s the answer to the question above, about responsibility and such, is everyone. Me included. Why it happens, why it continues to happen, and the role the easy access to handguns plays in it. Everybody who participates in this society should be trying to empathize as hard as they fucking can on this, trying to figure it out. But not at dinner. Not over french fries and hot sauce sitting on the patio of a restaurant you’ve never been to trying to have a pleasant evening with your girlfriend. I did my due diligence on it this morning. I read the news, I saw it had happened, I wanted to ponder on it, I was planning to ponder on it like I am now, here, at night, in front of my keyboard with my cats watching my back until I can’t do it anymore and then go to bed and watch cartoons via Netflix because I pay them a subscription fee that allows me that option for falling asleep. When I was ready, though, when I had some thoughts prepared and written out, I do believe it is my responsibility to give them voice, because it contributes, because it betters, this is how we grow. You get it.

Same goes for the classroom. Your job there is to confront what necessary subject matter will grant you an education, as deemed by whatever college you signed up to attend, whatever that instructor says is an education. This is your new society, this is your contract. Or, if you disagreed with that instructor or that college’s idea of an education, the next one you picked, that’s your new contract. All of this is your job as a student, to find the right class, the right teacher, the right major, whatever, that’s on you. What is not your fault: being a woman on a college campus. Being part of the one-in-three who will experience sexual violence in college, or the 100% who will know someone who does. It is not your fault if you’re trying to do your homework and you read a classic novel you know nothing about and suddenly there’s a horrific rape scene and you’re now a mental wreck for the rest of the night, despite the important themes and symbolism that go along with that awfulness which you’re supposed to be writing a paper on, but can’t, because you watched your friend Julie get into the car with those guys after that night-of-too-many-shots and now even though she won’t confirm anything she hasn’t been the same since. And this is something you’ve had to deal with as a human being who has to deal with things, yes, we all live hard lives. But we need the right to confront our demons on our own terms, on our own time, and not suddenly, unexpectedly, in a lecture hall surrounded by strangers and under the watching eyes of the pompous prick who thought his experience of the novel’s graphic violence would be the same as yours, and who holds not a small amount of your future in his hands, and, by the way, is probably someone you look up to at least a little, enough to stay in his class after that first week, anyway. 

This is not emotional coddling. This is not granting exceptions to a whiny, spoiled generation. This, again, is common fucking empathy. If you’re too afraid of your students to teach what you want, but teach it responsibly, you don’t belong at the front of a classroom in the first place. And if I see one more person post that goddamn Atlantic article with some “finally somebody said it” type comment to accompany it, I’m going on a defriending rampage, I swear to god. 

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