SEPTEMBER 8, 2019
When my brother died he had so many tumors in his head that it looked like a Lego brick.
He used to love Legos.
It was four days before Christmas, and he was eleven.
We left his stocking hanging up by the fire for months.
He wanted to be an architect
but it’s been six years and I still don’t know what they did with his body.
It doesn’t hit me on his birthday or his deathday.
It hits me on September 8th, or March 23rd, or July 2nd.
I met a new colleague who looks like him.
I saw a name in wet cement, aimed my face at the ground and sucked in my teeth.
He used to be a person -
Now he’s just mascara, on my white towels.
DEEP WATER ABOVE
JUNE 12, 2019
There was that one time, the lakeside show in British Columbia — the night that our bus call was a mere half hour after we’d rolled the last road-weary guitar cases and merchandise bins back up the trailer ramp. Most nights we had hours before we were due to depart, hours spent showering and winding down or, more presently, finding local trouble to get involved with. Tonight the stay was not to be. I had marched up Willie’s steps long past when everyone but our guitar tech had gone to bed, hospitality beer in hand, scuffling my feet and flouncing vaguely onto the pleather bench in that petulant manner of children who crave secrecy but yet desperately want to be asked what troubles them. My crewmate had woken up in America early that morning, without the bus, and had his own eventful day rejoining us, so he raised an exhausted eyebrow and drank his mate and didn’t ask. Our driver returned soon after and churned the engine to life, and I watched the pine forest disappear in silence.
For the next month I’d both regret, and proffer blessed thanks for, that tiny window of time, a window that allowed me not a second to spare by the mountain lake... Something had taken hold in those same moments by the trailer; a pregnant word, a lingering hand, a secret glance hefting cases with lithe Canadian stagehands in the dark, something that thrilled and frightened me and which I spent the next month awake nights in my rumbling bunk trying to decipher, retracing and wearing deep its path, until only by another lake on the opposite side of the continent did I at last think myself to peace. It had been enough. Thirty seconds more on the shore and I would have lost all control, the urgent compulsion flinging me headlong into a chasm from which there was no return, the depths of which I could not know. Thirty minutes more, under the moon, and I would have had my answer at what dear price I could not afford nor say.
It remains mystical in my head, the smallest of towns, but the largest of places. There were golf carts at the show that night, piloted by dizzyingly energetic drivers, headlight beams bouncing around the festival grounds as they rampaged across their summer turf with splendid hollering spirit. Those wild lights. They rippled brazen through the pines, they dimmed the alpenglow. They had stripped to go swimming when I was boarding the bus, their merriment pealing back over the crickets; they had all been friends before we came and would remain so for long after, and as we wound our way south toward the border, I wanted nothing as much as to run back barefoot and join their tribe.
FROM MANHATTAN WITH LOVE
The place with skyline ironed bold
on hearts of plains-land children
whose next-best-thing to a skyscraper is the windmill, back of the farmhouse –
The order and the structure here retrain our native ways,
mere clockwork people,
calloused, iron-plated, bullet-timed and journaled –
Though here and there, while marching by,
a stranger’s glance will catch our eye;
one instant, broken from the trance,
and sharing in a wordless dance,
we see each other –
Catch each other dreaming…
…of the farmhouse. The suburbs.
The small towns, the strip malls, the hayfields,
A time when our minds were less than cluttered
No sifting through distractions,
sputtered from every mouth, email, surface –
We only knew the good things.
Pancakes and bacon, family and bonfires,
Playing four-square in the street and watching the seasons change.
And change they did, and brought us here,
to a city we love, or maybe fear,
Its blocks devoid of whirling leaves
But rich in opportunity –
So we take those seeds,
from early youth,
Plant a garden in the wind on a Brooklyn roof
And grow up taller into something new,
And if we’re focused, and if we choose,
Shape the city to look a little more like us –
Not the other way around –
We’ll find ourselves, become ourselves,
Build wilder versions of ourselves,
And if we can make it through everywhere else –
We can sure as hell make it here.
EZRA JACK KEATS
MARCH 01, 2019
On the best mornings, we woke up in a cozy cloud of falling snow to the smell of somebody else making pancakes and bacon downstairs. We always tried to guess from bed whether it was pancakes. French toast was less preferred, as it was made of whole wheat and tended to desiccate in the oven before we got to the kitchen, and was unpredictably eggy; pancakes were what we wished for, the hot, light fluff that granulized so deliciously in real syrup.
Pancakes were our father’s favorite. He was twinkly on pancake days; they were fun to make, and reminded him of when he was our age. He’d be up at dawn in red robe and slippers, trying not to wake my mother, to agonize over cooking them right. As the quiet snowflakes drifted we sipped our orange juice and watched him shepherd over the griddle, Arabica and spatula in hand — perfecting.
FEBRUARY 23, 2019
Somewhere across the Pacific sea a girl, like me, wakes up when the morning still spills sideways through the trees, warm enough for bare shoulders, cool enough to be perfect. The breeze smells of new grass and the birds sway, calm, in the water.
Somewhere in the west of Ireland, fortressed between crags and bare shrubs above the wild sea, a long driveway winds through brambles until it reaches a cottage. Inside the lamps are low and golden, and the heater is on, and past the sofa, in the kitchen, a grandmother kneads raisin dough by the sound of the weatherman.
Somewhere in Shenandoah, the thick Appalachian forests where rivers run deep and mosquitoes bite deeper, three children shuck corn on a back porch, their feet brown from the day’s games on the driveway. The light hangs, even, over the clearing, sunrays gone behind a mountaintop. The cicadas saw at their song in the trees.
These are places I go in my mind.
ORIGINAL: JANUARY 27, 2019
It’s calmer in the city on a Sunday.
In the carpool in the morning my neighbor asks the driver what his music is. I wondered too.
We float through moted sunrays, quiet, listening.
Along the streets near Madison Avenue a businessman walks by, dressed head to toe in polished pinstripes, plus pink sunglasses.
People meet your eyes on Sundays. Strange, like they’re asking whether they exist.
Reeling from the week, they wander downtown, uncertain with how not to hurry.
Zoo birds, remembering how to fly.
RED AND WHITE
ORIGINAL: JANUARY 21, 2019
This book belongs to its owner Fathallah Saad.
He bought it with his own money at the beginning of March 1892.
It was a time before the conflict,
before the need for peace,
When boys looked up to men, and men to scholars.
Fifty years from then, the Gaza land,
the name of which, till then, had not been heavy,
Was torn asunder by the need to claim it.
Both sides of souls, their morals and convictions,
Had reasons for the fight — embroiled histories,
Thicker, richer than six thousand books.
The books were ravaged, too, just like the nation.
Five times that six, in homes, before the looting,
A ticker-tape parade made from their pages,
Out windows, thrown, on aching streets below.
As families fled, their hair flecked with the remnants
of culture — proud and strong, and that which keeps us
from turning back to animals we fear —
A somber loss began to coat the sidewalks,
The bitter end of records, memories, pasts.
They could not watch it burn. Now was survival,
Doctors, fathers, homeless, all one man.
Now, here we stand, a hundred-plus years after
Saad bought that book, so glad to call it his.
His words are on a billboard.
Fathallah, we see you, friend.
The war which still has yet to end
I hope you never saw it start
but we will see it through.
The literature you treasured well
Will be the savior from this hell,
By education, may we see the truth:
That man is man,
and land is land,
and knowledge heals,
And carnage can’t.
ORIGINAL: JANUARY 19, 2019
When Owen died the therapist told me I should keep a journal. Maybe it would help me think better. I shot her down because I knew it wouldn’t work, but couldn’t really say why.
I just figured it out - there’s a subtle set of expectations with a journal, like you’re supposed to write an entry every day in this first person format, and you’re supposed to talk about thoughts and feelings. And I couldn’t help thinking, geez, what if one day I just have nothing to say? Some days you feel fine.And there went the commitment.
It wasn’t the idea of the journal that felt wrong, but just the thought of being locked into that format. I don’t know why I saw that as the only option. It wasn’t a binary choice. Looking back I should’ve taken her advice, but made it mine, with poetry and nonsense and associations and whatever else I felt like writing, just so long as it was writing.
It may also have had something to do with the zebra stripes and garish sparkle butterfly on the cover of the notebook she offered me.
I was seventeen, insanely prideful, insanely tense. It didn’t look serious. The pages themselves would have been freedom…but what are you gonna do.
ORIGINAL: JANUARY 12, 2019
Lines on the paper.
Remember to convert anything daunting into an excitement. Instead of - “how will I ever make this happen?!” - ask - “could I be any more excited to put one foot in front of another on this journey, doing what I love?”
Shape it - mold it - make the feelings your own. Reach out and embrace the uncertain.
It’s like walking to clear the mind. Just set out and go.
And as you lose yourself in the simple act of moving forward, little by little, clarity will come.
The first step is the hardest. It’s a change in inertia, from total stillness, that requires the highest exertion of effort, but as you take another step you build momentum - and find a new inertia: motion.
Even better? With daily exercise you will grow stronger, and your muscles will find it easier and easier to take those first steps. One day it’ll become second nature, like breathing.
A better writer would find a clearer way to synthesize the comparison to Newton’s laws of motion. That’s okay. It isn’t a thesis I’m doing here and improvement comes only with practice.
I haven’t written today.
I woke up late, ate five toffee bars, felt sucked under. Didn’t think about the subway story at all. Worked on festival applications instead…so that counts for something, right?
It wasn’t easy today and it won’t be easy most days. Constantly checking, balancing, reevaluating.
Is the machine awake - alive - operational - focused? Feeling O.K.?
All those steps. Routines. Marking boxes off a list, before producing any material is even possible.
Howto make it better? Is it worth trying to change my brain to adapt to my life?
Or better to build a life around the brain…
…to give in…?
If you wrote down everything you thought - how many reams of paper would it fill?
From the age you first picked up a pen (and knew how to make it talk), until now - how many pounds of pages would it be?
You could fill a house,
an apartment building,
the whole city block,
and chances are, when you looked back through all those metric tons of words, you’d find some that carried some serious weight.
Increase those odds. Write more.
ORIGINAL: DECEMBER 18, 2018
What do I have to say that isn’t being said? What have I got - what’s so special about Olivia?
Sometimes I’ll ride around on my high horse thinking I’m hot sh!t — until I remember that my ideas are largely just that: sh!t. It’s not worth putting drivel into the world, not worth going through all that trouble if you’re not going to mean anything by it. You’d better shoot for the moon and have something to say. Or something to stand for, some driving force, because a Saturday-night popcorn audience cares peanuts about your pretty opinion.
So what’s my thing? Do I even work hard enough to get my voice out there? I’m not the master of stunning visuals and I’m not breaking genre ground. And I do spend too much time thinking about where I fit and how to get in the door, and bare enough time actually cranking out the work.
What I have got for certain — and this is for sure forever — is so many feelings and an absolutely-desperately undying need to show them around and see if they stick. I am the physical size of a Mars Bar with enough emotion to fill up a Shaq, or two…and it’s too much feeling to hold onto. Tried it, didn’t work. So whatever I do must be something dealing with huge amounts of feeling.
And I’ve got to make millions of people feel the same way. I have to know that they understand, I have to see them cry or laugh or crinkle up their eyes. I can’t explain my head to every single one of you, so let me put it out there in a way you’ll associate with your own experience. Let my heart mean something for you. We all remember the glorious abandon of our youth — that foundation of our being, the formative years — so let me take you back there, with stories that aren’t afraid to yearn, to cut loose, to dance on the hill in the sunset and make young fools in love out of themselves. We all grew up sometime in high school, and buried our spirits along with our freedom and our parents’ idyllic marriage - why?! That was a choice! Dig the spirits up! Bring them out! Paint your face, sing in your clothes in the rain. Life is for being lived.
I do hate restraint and I hate what it does to us. It makes grandeur sweeter, though, because it gives us a frame of reference. And I do believe that balance and contrast are the most effective ways of getting someone to feel how you need them to feel. Show me a queen, a drag queen in North Dakota forced to pay the bills by working days at the nasty auto body shop, and that will break my heart - because we want them to be free! Because we are adults now, with some same dreams locked down in our souls, collecting dust - our own childhood grandeurs restrained by the chains of going through the motions.
I refuse to settle for dimming the fire that makes me dream ever bigger. Keep your tea-and-biscuits dramas full of subtleties and hints. I’ll gently play your heart over hot coals and ice and even as it bleeds into the musty oriental carpet you’ll smile at me, with sparkling diamonds in your eyes, for showing you the young world again, and die in tragic splendor on the parlor floor singing the song that came to save you, the song of your youth. If only all those years ago you would have listened!
That is what I have. Fury. Wonder. Hope. All those things that were lost - let me show you again. Climb the mountain with me and let’s remind ourselves what is possible. Let’s remind ourselves what is good. We have so much worth living for.
48th STREET MELEE
ORIGINAL: DECEMBER 08, 2018
it’s time to write for no reason other than the pen feels good in rhythm on paper
the lines give me clarity, focus, comfort in restriction. we like it that way. there’s time and place for letting your voice out, taking your heart on a romp in the mountains and soaring as big as lungs will let you. but there’s comfort in working in parameters, doing a simple task, concentrating easily on just words. it’s beautiful because it’s so simple…part of the balance we need, the homeostasis of the way things ought to be. a fitting contrast to the never-ending tetherball match of the city.
eight million people, plus the tourists, blowing around manhattan on a saturday is a whole lot of movement and noise - push, shove, stay close to me, who’s heading up this snail parade?, where’d Emma go?, get your pretzels here, sample sale - sample sale, bike tour of Central Park?, no thanks I live here, oh, good for you. we eat our hot croissants and joe and hold on for dear life, collecting totems of the day’s places in the smells on our hair - halal cart cartographers.
that’s a big part of the city - not enough to just pass through and look around. you have to let her grasp you, sweep you around and run her hands over your face…touch you, pull you, pick your arm up and see how it flops back down. then you can see her, too, and be a part of her; she lets you in when you have done the same. and in this mutual measuring you learn more about her, but more strikingly you’ll unhide yourself, and, laid bare by the sirens and the blinding midnight blaze, come face to face with who you really are.
ORIGINAL: NOVEMBER 16, 2018
The laundry on a snow night -
a cradle in the city,
pajama people, gentle,
digestible, like scones.
The counter man is yawning -
got coffee for the slow shift,
outside the night train’s squealing,
inside, fluorescent womb.
Now the mood is changing -
the news came on, they’re yelling -
four corners of the ceiling hold
four cameras, eyes trained hard.
No longer quiet island -
the streets and sirens, louder -
bleed in past thumping dryers,
and I am set for home.
EMPTY METAL FOLDING CHAIR
ORIGINAL: NOVEMBER 09, 2018
crisping wildflowers in the late light
looking into the emerald pool at the way things could have gone
am i happy? am i glad?
strange, to be sure, seeing a future i once imagined, now happening to someone else
i thought i’d forgotten
but i haven’t. - who could forget?
it comes flooding back. every moment.
sun, dappled water, a wild vine reaching toward a boundless sky.
now underwater cheers, now blurry snapshots, floating back from the distance down the other side of the fork in the road
it’s the closest we get to what might have been
a zoetrope, two subway cars thundering parallel in the night -
two strangers, window to window, one laughing -
REDENBACHER & OTHER KERNELS
ORIGINAL: NOVEMBER 01, 2018
You sit in a glorified box, a room at the Ritz, the carpet and walls curlicued, but still beige. Sun is hot through the massive window, over the back alley where the shiny air ducts are still just air ducts and the lower roofs are still layered in city grime. Indoors the ceiling is a corbeled coffin lid. The sun is inescapable, like Sunday noon in Fort Lauderdale in a black polyester suit, windows rolled up - in June. You bake in a gilded fishbowl, sun bleaching what it touches and fading away you. The clock stands still. There is no air. The silence - choking.
We like to bestow words of gratitude on those working in positions that support us - it makes us feel good and we feel as though we are so generous. But this costs us almost nothing. It’s quite literally the least we could do. And often it comes across as insincere - especially if praise is only heaped when we get what we want.
Practice feeling more than magnanimous towards those who are helping, or those who are less fortunate. Practice giving or saying thank you at random, in the quiet moments, and not just in front of others. Practice helping them in return. That’s a truer expression of appreciation.
The wan wash of sodium vapor finds an old man sitting in the shadows by the jungle-gym, staring through the bars, as prisoners do, at a vanished freedom he long lost.
I feel like apple wood fire and smoked Gouda…like sun slanted through sweet brassy leaves and crisp air, dancing warm and gold between blue shadows and old dried grass on the asphalt.
PLAYING WITH CARPET FUZZ
ORIGINAL: OCTOBER 13, 2018
The heater is on. The cat is too needy. Three blocks and a heavy coat away, an open mic night blares out and echoes off the bricks of the empty paper factory whose workers have long since gone home.
In an hour it will be Sunday.
Now there’s a woman’s voice, looping above quiet traffic and spooling over slow bass beats and an electric keyboard. Spacey minor-key sounds for a clear night, a night for wool socks and space heaters. The pitch sky gapes over Brooklyn, stabbed through with cold stars.
I was thinking earlier about how British actors are everywhere these days. We’re hard pressed to hire an American to play one of our own - the advent of superhero franchises saw more and more roles outsourced across the pond to our cousins with stiffer upper lips and a knack for accents.
It’s not that America has no actors, it’s that the new American style has unwittingly made our home crop obsolete. We shoot our shows for palm-sized screens, now. Asking an audience to watch a cinematic vista shot, or even the tamer medium-wide, on an iPhone is asking them to give themselves a retinal sprain and a headache. So we’ve adapted by punching in, getting closer, economizing our entertainment to what can fit into the scope of a 50mm lens or tighter.
It looks cheap. It feels lazy, but it’s what the client wants…and where British acting nuance appeared stiff and unaffected in yesteryear’s broader compositions, thanks to the MCU (that’s Marvel Close-up Universe), it now looks pensive, engaging, and emotional. On the flip side, Americans’ bombastic, take-up-space posturing born from Hollywood’s gilded age is too big and too theatrical for anything but a wider shot, in a theater…and they just don’t shoot ‘em that way any more.
ON THE PREVOST
ORIGINAL: OCTOBER 13, 2018
“I love playing the honkytonks,” Cary Ann tells me, and it shows.
They’re a band meant to be heard live. [They fill] a room with a rugged heart and a raspy sweetness at the same time that they gnaw out some hair-shaking, sweat-rivulet-down-the-suit-jacket rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s never more evident than when the room is crowded with as much stale ale and cigarette wafts as it is with loudly singing people. The stage banter crackles faster. The harmonica solos lift you up and you can feel the kick drum right down in your soul.
You have to wonder how [being best witnessed live] works for their business model…Spotify, et al. having decimated the record sales industry, and all.
But it’s the same thing that keeps rock alive that they thrive on. (And maybe streaming platforms, in a backhand chance way, fuel it.) It’s that total lack of artifice that’s been with true staples of the genre from the beginning that serves as their axle. That knowledge that - even as they’re up there serving a-traditional concoctions of grungy electric guitar and lushly visual bluegrass lyrics, and cocking a trademark smirky eyebrow at the moral convictions of an old-school audience with anthems like “I’m Coming Out” and their anti-deportation lilt “C’mon, Utah!” - you, the witness, are still getting something that’s true to the core rock spirit that started it all: the rawness, the realness, the earnesty to pour out a human sentiment in measures of sweat and decibels and broken strings on that stage.
The delivery of these ideas may sound fresh, but the style is still there - the concept & intent. Maybe that’s why the songs feel like classics we should already know: they speak to that place in us, deep down, that yearns to turn off the phone, pull away the headphones, and just breathe for a little while.
ORIGINAL: SEPTEMBER 19, 2018
The room is electric, colorful when he’s there. The clock hangs broken off the wall. Every second breathed in through fervent focus - the punch glass, a strand of hair, the pattern on his socks. He doesn’t know.
Before this room he was reading a text in the parking lot; there was grit in his shoes. After it he’ll loosen the tie on his drive home. His Civic will smell of fries. He holds the punch glass and throws words away to a mild acquaintance, a casual someone, an accessory to the main reason he’s here.
It is just a room. He’ll forget it, like cardboard. But the moment he walked in will burn crystalline every night and, try as you will, through twenties, thirties - you can never come back here again.
ORIGINAL: JULY 05, 2018
She was little, but she was larger than life.
Every one of her descendants outgrew her. We’d push her buttons, mouth off a little - just to see what would happen - and she’d give us The Look and tell us she could “still swing up”.
We never disrespected her, though. It never would have crossed our minds. You just didn’t misbehave around G-ma. She was the Boss in a matriarchal family, and if you had something to say you could go around the corner and roll your eyes, if you were feeling brave. She claimed she could hear an eyeroll from two floors away. She was always right.
Then, just as she was getting to you, there would be windmill cookies in the kitchen, the kind she only got when you were there. She’d make you breakfast, bacon lovingly griddled with the same pancake turner that she waved when you were on thin ice.
She never got angry. She’d get testy, and snap one or two words, “you watch it” - and that was as much as we ever got to see, but that was all we needed. She carried herself in grace and holy patience, even as she had a firm fire in her that drove her to push, push, and get things done. She could outlast any argument, calm, persistent, infuriating, and then when she won she’d turn away, grinning to the spectators, and her eyes would twinkle like a little girl’s. She loved adventures, and traveling, and talking to strangers. She found the good in everybody. She never held a grudge.
She’d go up to the parish garden on weekends, armed with her lifelong Catholic devotion and a little wagon full of yard tools, and spend the afternoon. She was known for her pruning. She’d pull weeds, plant things, and give us a tour when we’d go with her. “This is St. Francis of Assisi,” she’d say, and you felt as if the tiny statue in the flowerbed was her grandchild.
She gave until the end. I went to see her for the last time, and even as we hovered in the tiny bedroom, worried for her health, she was only worried about making enough mashed potatoes for everyone.
We loved her, oh, we loved her, and when we had her funeral, the priest cried.
ORIGINAL: MAY 09, 2018
I believe no thought taken with pen to paper is wasted. Analog is of God; if you have written your heart out by hand, you have contributed to the world something worth holding onto. What ink did you use - was it waterproof? What did you write on - a valet tag? a shirtbox? the wall? My production books are full of loose leaves made neat in sleeves, small inceptions of moments preserved forever to make large and real: tangible evidence of the beginning. My bedroom is papered in postcards. As lovely as that is, though, sometimes I want to think and be done with it, and not hold on, and in those times I turn here.
FOR THE BETTERMENT OF SYSTEMS
ORIGINAL: NOVEMBER 15, 2017
COMMUNICATION FOR THE BETTERMENT OF SYSTEMS
a series of bylaws
•Communicate information to all relevant parties as soon as it is confirmed.
•Additionally, anticipate what parties will be relevant, and gather individually tailored information.
•Know all details of the information and anticipate questions.
•Do not communicate partial, unsolid, or vague information. If you must do so, follow up as more details come to light.
•Do not confirm something if it has not yet been confirmed.
•Use judgement on when, and from whom, to withhold information.
•Use judgement on when, and to whom, to disclose information.
•Do not assume information has been dispersed. Check, but do so with grace.
•Clarity and efficiency are key.
•Communicate in concrete concepts as often as possible.
•Don’t be curt, but don’t be loquacious. Minimize the amount of talking necessary and spend time on listening.
•Listen more than you speak.
•Understand that your demeanor affects the result of your interaction.
•If pressed for time, or stressed, speak slowly. People can only execute requests if they can understand you.
•Keep an even keel.
•Do not attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.
•Look for resolution to all conflicts.
•Facilitate honesty and open dialogue; embrace challenges as a team and with a positive attitude.
•The simplest solution is often correct.
•Communicate with the goal of progress.
THE SHENANDOAH SPIRIT
ORIGINAL: AUGUST 26, 2017
Nobody starts out trying to save the world. We start the same, small and scared; the world's too big and too far away. We start by saving our world. It's subjective like that - and if we're good enough at saving ourworld, we might just catch the globe's attention to sway it. We find that burning itch, that gaping need we ache to solve a block down our street, and we chip away at it long past when the others have gone home. All through the night, on and on - and when the sun rises in the morning and finds us standing, sleepless and near collapse, it is our voice that is suddenly heard, and what we care about is now important.
It's been almost four years since one of my little brothers died. And the sun rises...I can wake up in the morning and be excited for the day, and make bacon and tomatoes and breathe in coffee steam and crisp dew, and know that there's so much room in my chest for life and love and fire, as much as there is room for darkness; the best thing about metaphorical spaces is that they keep expanding. I can build tunnels and nooks and stairwells and great rooms in my heart, places to hide in on rainy days and parapets to sing from when the sky is clear. There is always more room, for people past and present and not yet here. I am growing upwards and inwards and sidewards, and I see more colors and taste more flavors now than ever before, and maybe I am a great deal wiser, and an ocean sadder - but the smarting in my throat is how I know I'm alive.
ORIGINAL: JUNE 13, 2017
It's late afternoon. The sun's not as hot as it was at twelve, and you got some bad news today, so you decide to go for a run.
You throw on the old soccer shorts, the ratty sports bra, and the navy blue FCMS 2010 shirt with the bleach spots, and head out. You have to clonk your Keens against the side of the house to get the mud off from when you wandered through the woods earlier. It's only been hours, but the mud's baked dry, out on the porch.
Out in the lazy street, old men with arthritis would have an easier time running. Is it the heat, or is it your knee? It's definitely your left knee. Damn the high school days of cross country, and the ski sprain you never tried enough to heal. You'll go to the front of the neighborhood and come back; that's enough to feel good about yourself.
Nobody's outdoors, so you don't worry about looking around. Eyes on the pavement, because it helps you focus on pacing, and because there's nothing else to pay attention to. No dogs barking, no wind. You scare away one somebody - a crow, pecking at the eyes of a dead squirrel who got hit mid-run and looks almost like he's faking, like he could take up and go again if you just give him a second. Poor guy. You'd scoop him off the road to peace, if there weren't so many bluebottles, but with nobody else to shoo them away, they're going to town. The busiest part of the neighborhood is this roadkill.
So when the blue SUV crunches to a halt in the middle of the road at the turnaround, up ahead, you're happy to see another person. It's that kid who used to ride the morning bus, four or five years ago. He's still gangly. You wave but he doesn't seem to acknowledge you, and you keep on jogging.
The car's in park, and he gets out. Chinese fire drill, but weird when you notice that there's no one else in the car. The truck's got no license plate on the front, and you can't see the back. He walks around to the back, hands out oddly from his waist, someone used to a walkie or a tactical belt, and was his hair always buzzed?
You keep jogging, almost at the turnaround, kind of still looking at the asphalt out of habit, but he hasn't come back from behind the car.
He looks like one of those guys who snaps and goes out to shoot up passersby. Well, with the burning in your knee, and that phone call you got earlier, you dramatically almost wish he would. You wonder what it'd feel like to get shot...they do that in police training, except you get to wear Kevlar; Mrs. Murphy said it's like getting punched. You think of the dead squirrel.
Man, this run is something else, but what great shape you'll be in!
You've rounded the bend, the SUV still parked but now behind you, and you're jogging away lost in thought when you hear the trunk close and chock - the clip locks into place. Huh, you think. Sounds like an AR; you've shot one before at Clark Bros with your dad, they're semi-aut and incredibly good at...long...ranges...
You see the exit wound through the front of your t-shirt before you feel it. Then you hear it, and then you fall down. Or maybe it's not in that order, but the ground beneath you is awfully soupy, kind of like melted Popsicles, and ow, OW, oh my god, did he SHOOT me, and the door closes and the engine roars and behind you the kid in the car peels out, but all you can see is stars.
Your brain is slow. You left your phone at home. Your head's so heavy. Focus, focus.
And then you blink and you're on your feet - how, you don't know - and your navy blue shirt's dark with sweat, and sticky, too, so you wring it out and it's only when the sweat drips off red that you get it. Oh. You need help, to call someone, how much time before you bleed out, what was the license plate number, was that one bang or two?
But of all the things you're supposed to do, only one keeps coming to mind. The run. You have to stick to the path. You can get that out of the way, and then get to everything else. Brain says just lay down on the curb and let go, but body says left foot, right foot. So you stuff a hand into your stomach and hold it in, and your feet are moving forward on their own, jogging again, going home. Just finish the run. Some girl on the swim team asked once if your parents were in the military, because you didn't complain during workouts. Go. Slosh, squelch, left foot, right foot.
And you do it. And you get home, and you go to get stitched up, and everyone wants to know how come you kept moving, how you didn't pass out, but "well, I wanted to..." isn't an answer. And they give you comfy socks, and you tell everybody all about it, and you can go on another run in a week. You still feel bad, but not as bad; that phone call this morning seems miles away. You realize, right then, that you pulled through, still kicking, and heck, you turned out better than that squirrel. You can use this for creative inspiration, think of a story to tell about it. Perhaps weave it into character development. Sure, maybe you can't wear the bikini for a while, and maybe you'll avoid weird gangly blond distant acquaintances for a while longer, but man, what a surreal day, and isn't that just the way life goes?
PASSING THROUGH PAW PAW
ORIGINAL: JUNE 11, 2017
BACKROADS MD...land of the old grey barns, whitewashed houses, and woodpiles, detached truckbed rooves leaned politely against them - a meeting of the new and old. Faded RVs and skiffs sit parked on neat, dry lawns, grasses untouched by the wilderness they're cut into. The people who live here built clay-dust towns, with bleached pastel clapboard and dated brickwork not beautiful, but not unpleasant: towns suited to the working folk who take pride in practicality. These people like 6-pack t-shirts and tennis shorts. Their fresh lemonade comes in powder in a Country Time can. But they'll pour you a glass when the sun's high, and sit you down in the shade among weathered farm tools on their splintered porch, talking about the kids, the community, and that old state championship story that you let them tell, just one more time, because it makes them happy to remember.
Preserve at all costs the sanctity of summer.
flowering morning-glories on the mailbox
dew and cicadas in the morning
peaches and tomatoes and coffee steam when it's still cool out
but you don't need coffee to wake up
tuck your shirt up under itself and roll your pant legs to your calves
contrapposto looks good on everybody, every body
maybe you'll get that ink you've been thinking about
maybe you'll sneak out with that catch you've been thinking about
how you doin'
top gun shades
fireflies and night crickets...
Air conditioning. Fluorescent lights. Ugh
summer is not for plastic-chair school
summer's for the school of life
for watching outdoor movies and swatting mosquitoes off your butt
for picking wineberries
for reading screenplays
for teaching yourself all the tricks you never have time for.
OPEN THE DOOR
ORIGINAL: JUNE 11, 2017
YOU CAN'T BEAR TO BE AROUND SAD PEOPLE - NO, CAN'T BEAR WHEN YOUR PEOPLE ARE SAD.
YOUR PEOPLE THESE DAYS ARE ALWAYS SAD. IT BREAKS YOU UP... JESUS, EMPATHY IS SO INCONVENIENT.
BUT THEN, MAYBE AS MUCH AS OTHERS AFFECT YOU, YOU CAN IMPROVE THEM. THAT'S IF AND ONLY IF YOU PUT YOUR MIND TO IT.
FOR INSTANCE, LOVE - AGAPE, PLATONIC, ROMANTIC, WHATEVER - IS A HARD CHOICE, BUT IT'S A CHOICE. YOU'VE GOT TO KEEP WORKING AT IT. IT'S NOT THE CHOICE ITSELF THAT'S HARD, BUT RATHER WHAT COMES AFTER. YOU DON'T GET TO MAKE THE CHOICE AND THEN RELAX; CHOOSING IS THE EASY PART. YOU HAVE TO WANT IT TO WORK AND FOLLOW THROUGH.
AND, IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED, YOUR LIFE CAN BE VASTLY CHANGED BY ONE DECISION: DO YOU ACCEPT THIS, OR DO YOU CARE ENOUGH TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS?
DO YOU STARE DOWN THE TRACK AT THE TRAIN COMING, AND STAND BY YOUR FATE - OR DO YOU TAKE THREE PACES TO THE SIDE? UNLOOP YOUR SHOELACE FROM THE RAILROAD TIE, AND STEP OFF THE RAILS?
SO MANY PEOPLE LIVE SAD; WE'VE GOTTEN TOO RESIGNED TO LIFE FALLING OUT OF OUR CONTROL. I THINK WE FORGET THAT WE DO HAVE A SAY: A SAY IN OUR ATTITUDE, IN HOW WE JUGGLE THE PLATES. IT'S NOT A BIG INPUT - THE EARTH STILL TURNS - BUT ON EARTH YOU DON'T GET TO PICK YOUR HAND. YOU PLAY WHAT YOU'RE GIVEN, AND SOMETIMES, A LOT OF TIMES, YOU BLUFF. ATTITUDE. IT'S A VERY SMALL SAY IN THE SIMPLEST OF THINGS, BUT IT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
I realized I was tired of living my life in gray tones. The highs were never highs, the lows were never lows - but somehow things just kept fading away, foggier, swampier. I was afraid of messy and afraid of putting my heart into it. I didn't trust my own resilience. I lived in fear of the well drying up, that I would run out of happiness and never get it back... Funny enough, the only way to run out is to stop taking chances. The more you try to protect your wild heart, the more it wilts and dies, because what seems to the senses like armor, feels to the spirit like a cage.
THEM EARS THEY TICKING
ORIGINAL: APRIL 14, 2017
How good is good enough? Never good enough.
All I want to do is write.
All I want to do is walk outside and slurp up the chaos of the world, and go running and swimming and sweat and churn up all that world in me for a while, and then come inside and breathe it back out again, organized into little patterns on a page.
I sit down in the evenings after class to a room full of piles, stacks, mountains of things to do, and the mountains overwhelm me - and the only thing I want to do is take myself out to the park with a notebook and spill words all over the paper. Like a dancer speaks in motions, I think through my hands, with a pencil or a pen or buttons on a metal plate.
I lie down in the early mornings, day and night melting together, and sleep pulls me way down - and the only thing my mind will do is talk. It never stops talking. It makes me think about the heartbeat in my ears when I can't lie still. I need to take out this brain and just put that in a book, and that would be all.
Go on, brain, and let me get some rest. But it would slosh itself through the book, leaving prints on every page, and then by morning I'd wake up to it tapping on the glass, begging to come back in with a million new things to show for its travels.
How good is good enough? Never good enough. All I want to do is keep thinking.
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS
ORIGINAL: APRIL 06, 2017
*the following excerpts were done while I was shooting this video, and took about 30-60 seconds apiece, one for each take. I needed to look like I was writing something, so I made myself start writing and had to keep going without pausing to think; whatever came to mind went unedited on the page.
1) People say that life makes you jaded. They're wrong; you're born jaded and you just uncover it as you age, like a leaf without chlorophyll. Youth and all its summer sparkling magic quickly fades, leaving you colorful, but crispy, hardened to the world.
2) Once upon a time, there was an old man who really loved dogs and cats, and he would always take them for walks in the forest, and one day they got lost and he was heartbroken and he cried for days but they never came home. Then one morning he saw out his window a familiar sight: the wagging tail of his dog, darting through the trees. He looked closer. It was JUST the tail, attached to a bit of string, puppeteered from high in the treetops - he shrieked - his poor dog! God knows what the devils had done to the precious creature! and yet, he stood, frozen, clutching to the hope that it was some hallucination played by his aging eyes...
3) Ordinarily there might have been some explanation, but the circumstances under which she found herself proved to be exceptional. It was a five-week deadline, and the opposition was tall, dark, and cold. Those emails! Never good news. And yet, driven by some inner secret force, she soldiered on, unfeeling, unseeing, mumbling blindly through the dark, in search of the light switch that kept moving locations when her back was turned.
ORIGINAL MARCH 18, 2017
Another study: biking miles and miles around the park. I notice the mean lappage for joggers is four, but you have to factor in time of day. In the morning, people sit on the lawn facing each other; in the afternoon, they lie one way, or spread out more. More intent in the morning. Late nights on weekends, it takes four laps passing a pair on a bench for them to slide from beery awkward conversation into breathy manual conversation, and it takes one second on the first lap to predict this. On the fourth lap they notice me, and on the fifth lap - well, we don’t get to see that part.
"Saint Louis or bust?
"No one has ever said Saint Louis or bust.
"I mean, think about it. Missouri or bust. Missouri isn't the place. It's a nice little town where you stop to buy Tic-Tacs on your way somewhere better."
...What we missed is that you aren’t all there; you haven’t been for a long time. There’s only a hairline between function and chaos, and you cracked and can’t pull yourself back up because your arms are numb, your legs are numb, your mind is a numb closet riddled with growing moth-holes full of static. The moths don’t like sunlight, nor exercise. They shrivel from vegetables and shy from ginger tea, and shrink with a hundred other prescriptions, but they always come back. Always. They’re like morning breath, and when you’ve got the flu, it's all you can do to move from bed and brush your teeth.
Do you want to see me drunk? No, you don’t. It’s Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr. Sober I’m the moth, hypnotized by flame, but on moonshine nights I'm the fire whipping wildly out of control, a blast furnace in a gale - yet I’ve never known a man who didn't love to play with matches.
SELF SUSTAINING UNIT
ORIGINAL: JANUARY 30, 2017
Teacher, in a jarring diversion from soliloquy, sees me.
Are you taking notes, or are you writing something else?
The answer is no: no, we're not listening to you. We'd love to, but you speak too much. Every diamond that drops from your lips devalues those that fell before, and when you walked in two hours ago we hunkered down for the long depreciation. The others are just better at hiding it.
Feelings are unequivocally, without exception, numerical. Systemic. Formulaic. Mathematic. True, there is basic addition, and there is calculus, but the universe is governed by tick marks on a scale, and the recipe's yours to sculpt hearts like wax.
I can thrive in stasis. Calm is soul fuel, but the tank's never full - more, please, of that warm, fuzzy hum between alive and asleep, mind silent, June bugs in the grass on an early summer morning, waking up to pancakes and someone who smiles.
Incessant questioning in search of a right answer, without confirmation, breeds in one's subject resistance, doubt, frustration, and anxiety. There are ways to coax inner meaning outward, but this is not one of those ways.
ORIGINAL: DECEMBER 24, 2016
No, don't get married and start a picket-fence Jones family. That's not what I meant - how dreary. No better way to hasten depression and brain death than to succumb to suburbia. Your five-year-old self, the version of you with the big plans, would have a coronary if she saw you now, lowering the bar with every passing day, giving up on the mansion with the secret passages for a catalog house indistinguishable from its thousand neighbors out the window of a low plane. If I ever got married, I wouldn't have a house you could see from a plane. I need restricted airspace.
Settle down: learn when to worry. Some things aren't worth the eye bags, the wrinkled nails, the torn skin. Career, yes; family, yes; delayed flight, no. I am wholly guilty of spending eighty percent of any given day fretting over things I cannot control, taking solace only in the fact that a great many greats along the line had probably this same conundrum. That's what propelled them to their present notability, whatever it is that may be. (Ask me to specify anyone of magnitude with anxious tendencies, and you're out of luck. Poor researchers paint with a broad brush.)
But wait a minute. A paragraph ago you were tearing a new one to middle-class America. Where'd that come from? Go back; it's eleven p.m. and I haven't yet had my daily instance of Offended.
How astute of you. Yes, earlier this afternoon I was musing dully about how strip malls and restaurant chains make my skin shrivel up. "Little Susie, Little Timmy, you'll grow up to do great things - now hop in the Tahoe and we'll go to swim practice. And on the way we'll pass a Lord & Taylor outlet and three Starbucks and a P. F. Chang's, and about eighteen hundred other parents in other cars who all preach that their progeny is the exception." The law of probability states that several of these somebodies are, however inadvertently, lying. Granted, kids don't aspire to be Botox wine moms. (If they do, at least they've got a head start on regretting it, so by their mid-thirties they can realize there's still time left, and reverse and back out.) But the road from youth to age is desaturated and disenfranchising. Only the clearest dreamers make it. The others, poor, hapless creatures to whom an ideal has been sold, spend the rest of their lives grasping at smaller and smaller straws, wondering where the wrong turn was and justifying it by placing their faded goals on the shoulders of the next generation. I guess you'd call that human.
DON’T KNOCK NAIVETÉ
ORIGINAL: DECEMBER 19, 2016
I was brought up in my own idyllic world, a bubble. I was raised to believe the world could be whatever I wanted it to be, and not what it really was. I had no idea what it was. The world is neutral, just, unsympathetic, disinterested in human ideals. The world doesn't care. We like to believe we have a choice in life; to some degree, we do, but never in the ways we expect, and fate makes fools of the braggadocious and the unwise.
There's no can or can't with writing. You either write or you don't. A writer knows that the only can or can't is whether you can or can't stop the words that fight their way out of you long enough to sleep or go to the grocery store.
I've climbed mountains, forded rivers, flown the skies, sailed the seas, seen birth and death, eaten, drank, been drunk, sang, danced, laughed, cried, lived; but I've never been in love. My religious opinion changes daily. I eat peanuts in their shells, and I'm perfectly capable of keeping my own sheets warm, thank you.
ORIGINAL: DECEMBER 18, 2016
And despite my fight, I lie dormant for a while. Each new day brings a new way to dull the pain of failure to self-reinvent, failure to succeed at showing off. And the world goes by with its New York people and its Paris people, and somewhere lost in a sea of souls are the Warrenton people and the girl who keeps falling farther as the others rise. The girl who stands half-dressed on a Sunday in an empty house, dead-eyed in the kitchen where the dirty dishes are weeks old and the laundry sits cold in a pile. The girl who can do anything - or could.
ODDS AND STARTS
ORGINAL: DECEMBER 04, 2016
*content unrated / my mother's fine, it's fiction
We dwell now in the ebb of a small conversation where with every pause, one feels the swell as millions of mouths, tired of waiting unheard, breathe in to speak.
She was too wise for nightclubs. For a while she would sit there, until the pain bled out of her ears and joined the cacophony of meaningless, saccharine sound, and then she would be free again. Free to snarl into the cresting noise, to glare sparks into the dull human hive and crush it with her storm. She danced to win.
Other people drank to cope. She’d seen what it did to her mother, so she found a way to cope with her mother’s drinking by drowning herself in sound, maniacal music, symphonies of beats and screams and discordant chords - anything on the radio as long as it was really gddam fxking loud, but she couldn’t stand loud so she’d roll the windows down and weave through traffic, reckless and dangerous, wild and impressive and angry and powerful, mad eyes glittering and seeing a stunt course instead of a highway and racing crossways in front of someone who almost didn’t swerve in time. Heart stop. Then, shaken from aloft and broken, she’d pull over, cry until she could drive again, and go home.
There’s something about an OPEN sign in a dark parking lot at one in the morning.
Something about no trees anywhere,
Something about trucks, pickup trucks, lifted pickup trucks, racing on back roads in a drowsy town,
Something about appearances.
People shape how we see them. I didn’t stay to investigate.
I want desperately to be truly known. Torn between guarding my born shell and throwing my heart out to see where it sticks. Here, world; I don’t care if you love me, just please see me, acknowledge I exist. But the world is like a crush, and the more you parade for its attention, the more you repel it, so we play it cool and flirt with the world, and do this until we die. It’s the toughest of catches. We can choose to burn bright and fast, or dark and long, and the lucky few find that coveted middle. You don’t get to be too bold and stick around to see the aftermath.
Words are pears; raindrops. I can’t get enough of either.