“We gave the Future to the winds, and slumbered tranquilly in the Present, weaving the dull world around us into dreams.” ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt
I spent most of my early teens in the Bronx. The street I lived on, corner to corner, ran the length of three average city blocks and was the picture of diversity—the melting pot that New York had become famous for. It was all about migration. Italians were moving to new ground as black people nestled in and on their tail were Hispanics followed by West Indians. It was a neighborhood in transition where multi-cultures learn by cohabitation that differences in race didn’t make a person less human.
It was also the 70’s and I rocked a killer afro to end all ‘fros. Metal pronged afro pick with the handle clenched in a black power fist and a peace symbol carved out on the base, tucked in the back of my hair.
It drove my parents crazy. They rode my back constantly to get it cut but there was that preteen Samsonian fear that the strength of my personality—-my Madd-ness—-would be stripped away, were a barber to lay clippers on my precious locks. When I got the “as long as you’re living under my roof” speech, I knew I needed a solution and I needed it quick.
Enter: Cynthia Holloway. I mentioned my plight in passing and out of nowhere she offered to braid my hair into cornrows. So, we sat on the stoop of a private house and armed with only a comb and hair grease, Cynthia worked her nimble fingers like a loom.
She was one of those neighborhood girls that I’d never really spoken to before outside the odd hello. Not that there was anything wrong with her, she was simply a person that kept herself to herself. The type of person you’d have to make an effort to get to know.
It would take many years for me to become that type of person.
But in sitting with her I discovered she was both intelligent and imaginative, with interesting stories to tell. Her father was a retired Army Ranger colonel, who spent a great deal of his free time on the road in a jazz band.
I’m not sure how much of that was true. No one could ever remember seeing Cynthia’s dad, so maybe it was a story she invented to keep nosy kids at bay. Or perhaps it was one of the quiet lies that parents tell their children to spare them from the harsh realities of troubled marriages.
Since we had nothing but time to kill, we talked about our constricted home lives, mentioned the odd hobby, told a few jokes and had a couple of laughs, and when all the conversation wells had run dry, we told each other stories.
At the end of every month, when the braids began to look a little ratty, I’d take them out and Cynthia met me back on that stoop to repeat the process. And after a brief bit of catch-up, we’d go back to telling each other imaginary stories and without meaning to, wound up designing an illusory sanctuary from the burdens and pains of our everyday pre-teenage lives.
While we mentally terraformed our neighborhood row by cornrow, we got to know each other in those months as the monarchs of our fantasy world. We explored the surroundings, went on adventures, and basically forgot the world for a few hours a month.
Come the fifth month, I sat on the stoop and waited, my hair a wild crop of imagination waiting to be plowed, but Cynthia never showed. I later learned from a friend of a friend’s sister that she and her mother had moved away in the middle of the night without telling a soul where they were headed.
I tried to imagine all the possible reasons that would cause them to make a hurried escape under the cloak of twilight and seriously hoped it had nothing to do with her retired-Army-Ranger-colonel-jazz-band-dad. Nothing negative, anyway.
And yes, I eventually had no other choice than to submit to the butcher shop barbershop haircut. Much to my surprise, I managed to retain all of my Madd-ness afterward. I was still filled with my nerdy sameness and when I missed her a bit, I’d sometimes sit on the stoop and give an imaginary Cynthia updates on the latest goings-on in the world we created.
Thanks for humoring me as I wool-gathered.
PS. Cyn, if through some bizarre happenstance you should come across this, hit me up real quick. There’s a world in some need of serious upkeep.
Like its predecessor, Discouraged by Discouragement, this pesky fella here is another one of those posts that didn’t quite turn out as expected and ended up on the cutting room floor (though a part of its sentiment made its way into You’re Where You Are). Caught somewhere between my musings of growing older while still struggling with the craft and my intent of advising impatient writers to slow down, the post started taking the shape of something neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring:
“Do you think, I have not just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable!” — Julius Caesar
When you reach a certain age, you become acutely aware of time, how much you’ve squandered on things you swore were important at the moment, and how little you still have left in your account. Whenever I get the time brain bug, I’m always brought back to the line from Delmore Schwartz’s poem, Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day (quoted in that horrendous film Star Trek: Generations), “Time is the fire in which we burn.” I love that line. It resonates within me.
But I digress.
Many aspiring authors feel the pressures of time, either believing because of their age that they’ve gotten a late start in the writing process and need to play catch up, or simply haven’t got the proper time to devote to a writing regime, so they attempt to bang out herculean writing tasks without bothering to first learn the rules. They assume because they’ve taken on board the advice to write everyday that their skill set automatically improves and mistakes auto-correct themselves. They read, as instructed, but fail to apply storytelling rules–plotting, story goals, scenes and sequences, the purpose of characters, effective use of dialogue–to their own work.
That’s not to say their writing is bad, it simply lacks a consistent quality. A beautiful bit of prose or a dynamic character can easily get lost in the quagmire of weak grammar, poor pacing, and a meandering plot. Recognizing it can sometimes be hard to turn an objective eye on your own writing, here are a few questions to ask yourself, to see if you need to go back to writers boot camp:
1. Do you tell a story?
I assume you’re familiar with the phrase, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” This applies to your writing as well, especially when you’re concentrating on your piece at the word choice and sentence structure level. Sometimes it helps to take a step back and get a big picture view of what you’re attempting to do, what it is you’re really trying to write about. The answer isn’t always as clear cut as you’d imagine.
2. Is your writing concise?
This one’s a toughie, because it calls on you to chuck out everything you learned in school about the proper way to write an essay. Well, this ain’t about writing essays, bub (or bubette, no gender discrimination here) and the rules of pacing language are different in fiction. The first rule you need to learn is: Never use a long sentence when a short one does the same job.
3. Are you addicted to adjectives and adverbs?
Adjectives and adverbs are among the more hotly debated issues in the writing community, and while opinions vary, the common rule of thumb is less is more. It can be hard to spot over usage while writing so when you’re done with your piece, look for chains–a string of adjective and adverb two or greater–and whittle it down until you’re left with one or two essential ones. Also worth bearing in mind, when you feel the need to modify a noun or a verb, make sure they need to be modified. If they do, select the best word to convey your meaning.
4. Are you familiar with the word “subtle?”
Your audience is smarter than you realize. There’s no need for you to spell everything out in exacting detail. And, believe it or not, some folks actually enjoy interpreting things for themselves.
5. Should you be shifting viewpoints?
Hopping from one character’s head to another without causing audience confusion requires a certain level of skill, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you shouldn’t be doing it (and if I told you not to, you’d rush out and do it anyway) but why not baby step your way towards it? Work on mastering the one character viewpoint first.
6. Do you show too much?
Yes, the standard rule is “show, don’t tell” but you don’t need to show everything. When in doubt, refer to Elmore Leonard’s rule,”Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”
7. Do you create apathetic characters?
You’re an artist, your work is all about the truth, even in fiction. I get it. I’ve been there. But creating a realistic character based on your current bout of apathy, depression, or (heaven forbid) suicidal thoughts, often doesn’t make for good reading. Your characters must have wants and needs to push the plot forward. Audiences have no need to read stories where the characters have no desire to live or accomplish something.
Yes, leaving white on the page is a good thing as no one like slogging through dense blocks of description, but are you breaking up paragraphs with bits of meaningless chatter? Dialogue should be used as a communication between characters that evokes reaction. One characters says something that another character reacts to, which sparks a reaction, and so on, until the scene concludes. If you have no idea what your character has to say, then you don’t know your character well enough.
10. Can you write an ending?
Some people excel at writing beginnings, and that all they’re good at. Each chapter is a new beginning, with no middle to be found and as for an ending? I’m sure you can work out the answer to that. Other people get off to a slow start in the beginning, come into their own in the middle and peter out at the finish line. Let’s face it, endings are tough. Not only must you keep it clear and simple while you deliver on the promise of the premise (without being didactic), but you have to tie up all your story’s loose ends, and if you’re planning to surprise your audience, it shouldn’t be with an inappropriate twist, added for shock value. Keep in mind that writing the words “The End” doesn’t finish a story if it has no resolution.
In truth, I couldn’t finish it because I wasn’t in the proper frame of mind at the time. Although it might not be visible in the post, that damned time brain bug kept nagging at me, not with words, but with a feeling – the feeling of being left behind in the race for achievement. Before you say a word, I know better. In fact, one of my favorite quotes on this matter comes from the now famous commencement speech, Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97:
“The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.”
But we’re human, aren’t we? And sometimes knowing a truth doesn’t prevent you from feeling the exact opposite.
When I sit down to write these posts, I never know what they’ll be about beforehand. It’s a first-thought-that-hits-me-stream-of-consciousness sort of thing. Sometimes they’re on point, other times they meander a bit, but as stated in the About This Blog section, the posts are less about me attempting to appear clever or knowledgeable (what are the odds, really?), and more about getting myself into a proper writing frame of mind with a warm up exercise. Mental calisthenics, if you will.
As you might imagine, it doesn’t always go to plan. Case in point: the post below. Inspired in part by Susannah Breslin’s Forbes article, Why You Shouldn’t Be A Writer, and Martin Levin’s, You Suck And So Does Your Writing–which is more about petty squabbles between notable literary figures (how I would have combined the two ideas is anyone’s guess)–it was meant to be a discouragement piece, you know, separating the wheat from the chaff, and all that, that started out like this:
Of All the Things You Could Do With Your Life, Why On Earth Would You Purposely Choose To Be A Writer?
Don’t worry, it’s not a trick question, but one you should be prepared to ask yourself and answer before undertaking writing in any fashion as a serious profession. Among the more common reasons I’ve come across in my travels are:
1. No commuting and every day is Pajama Friday!
I can’t fault your logic here because commuting is generally a nightmare and what’s better than tooling around your house in a onesie all day long like an agoraphobic superhero? Sadly, it isn’t a good enough reason to want to be a writer, especially since there other telecommuting positions that offer more stability and better chances at becoming a career.
2. What better way is there to make a ton of dough and roll around in my piles of cash?
Well, you could try your hand at playing the lottery or betting the ponies, for starters. Rich writers are the exception to the rule. The majority of people who claim writing as a profession, work their mental fingers to the bone, producing material for years before they even get a glimpse at recognition, let alone a healthy paycheck. Instead of rolling in piles of cash, you’ll most likely be rolling up your coins, praying your landlord accepts pennies for rent.
3. Nothing better than being my own boss with flexible hours!
Flexible hours? Been writing long? Writing is a huge commitment that commandeers your entire life with absolutely no guarantee of any sort of financial gain. As stated earlier, there are other work-from-home opportunities that are far more secure and come equipped with a steady payday. And being your own boss isn’t the sipping Mai Tais under a beach umbrella fantasy you imagine it to be. First off, there’s no one to delegate all the donkey work to, and your brain doesn’t simply punch out when the working day has ended. Writing–and the guilt of not writing–never leaves you in peace until the article/book/screenplay/project has been completed.
4. It would be amazing to see my best-selling book in a bookstore/my script turned into a blockbuster feature film/win the Pulitzer Prize for my groundbreaking article series.
Who wouldn’t want any of those things? While we’re daydreaming, I’d also like to be an astronaut so that I can save the planet from extraterrestrial threats, be the smartest man in any room I’m in so that I can solve all the world’s problems and become Earth President, and build a safe-box time machine–that protects me from any sort of injury–equipped with a high end movie camera in order to jump back and forth in time to make the ultimate series of historical documentaries.
Now that my feet have touched terra firma and I’m once again grounded in reality, I can tell you that while it’s great to dream big, fame is one of the worst reasons to choose writing as a profession.
But the post wasn’t really working for me because I could feel myself getting snarkier as the piece went on, which wasn’t my intent going in. So, I decided to step off my soapbox and kill the post. And there it sat in my trash for days, forgotten like Charlie-In-The-Box, Dolly, Spotted Elephant, and King Moonracer. But it miraculously survived deletion during my numerous trash emptying sessions. This had to be a sign. What sign, I hadn’t the faintest, but I decided to attempt recycling it into a less judgmental, more positive message:
Writers are born critics who will criticize any and everything that crosses their paths, especially fellow writers. They will issue their assessments and commentary with the righteousness of having had their opinions validated by the Mount Horeb burning bush. These are the writers who cut open veins and bleed for the love of the craft, whose skulls ring with haunting voices that cannot be silenced until exorcized onto the page, who believe in their heart of hearts that the only words that deserve to be written are the truths that need to be told.
I can’t lie, sometimes I feel the same way.
But I’m not as bothered by it anymore because I know first hand that the writing process has it’s own way of weeding out the fly-by-night scribblers, posers and pretenders with the obstacles it scatters on the long and winding path to a completed project. Whether your driving force is money, fame. to impress a person/people, burning need, or love of the artform, you will still experience your fair share of procrastination, anxiety, writers block, time crunches, lack of motivation, fear of rejection, judgment of peers, and impatience of selling a piece.
If you can repeatedly bash your head into these walls, get up, dust yourself off and continue to write, who am I to question your motives? That, my friends, is the best I can do fer ya, today.
In the year when Kosovo declared its independence, China cracked down on protesting Tibetan Monks, Beijing hosted the Olympic Games and Barack Obama was busy running for President, I was calculating the odds of my dying alone.
Not that I mind being alone, hell, I’m about the only person on the planet that actually enjoys my company after the bloom has fallen from the rose. But there was this odd, hollow feeling in the center of my chest, something I had never experienced before. I believe you humans call it loneliness.
The cure was obvious, I’d have to make an effort to meet another living being on purpose, but because I am me and I have never ever ever been known to do things the easy way—ha! like there’s an easy way—I decided to turn the process into a social experiment to find out if women were actually attracted to intellect—yes, I’m presuming to possess an adequate level of intelligence—or if they were just as shallow as they claimed men to be. So, I joined a free online dating site.
I began a campaign I called BABASIOTAAM, which was short for Blogging About Befriending Absolute Strangers In Order To Attract A Mate, where I posted outrageous and fictitious stories as bait to reel in enquiring minds and open up a line of communication. This might sound a bit odd to you but it actually worked, the problem was my stories (all presented as facts) attracted both women and men who would then debate my postings until they erupted into flame wars, so I eventually abandoned the project.
But in the midst of my botched brilliant idea to attract a mate, I did actually manage to go on a few dates—or at least meet up with a few women in the flesh. The first was SxxQit10 who responded to my initial post on how sometimes the media can implant racist notions unbeknownst to consumers:
SxxQit10: Credit given for recognizing the thoughts as irrational and wrong. There are an awful lot of people with the same thoughts who think they’re perfectly rational and acceptable. Sad world we live in. Wanna chat? PM me.
Since that post, we had exchanged a few emails, nothing steamy, no cybering or anything of that nature, mostly icebreaker chitchat. Then she stepped up her game by IMing me.
SxxQit10: Hi! Do you have time to chat?
Me: Sure, I was just
answering your email.
SxxQit10: Great. Thanks for
writing by the way. You’re bold. 🙂 I like that.
Me: What’s the sense in
joining the site if you don’t attempt to make a new connection?
SxxQit10: Oh you might be
surprised! Are you new to this?
Me: The online thing? Yeah, pretty new to it. The worst you could have said was “Get lost!” I’m thick-skinned
SxxQit10: 🙂 I’m one of the polite ones. I believe in responding politely and staying human. Sorry if you’ve recently been through something unpleasant.
Me: Nothing recent.
SxxQit10: Oh good for you! Most guys jump on here within days of the end of their relationship. You were smart to wait. To me, that’s a real indication of character. If you can’t be alone, you’ll become too dependent and that’s not healthy for a relationship. Anyway, I’m not going to preach! 😉 You’re a smart guy and know all this stuff I’m sure.
Me: Fortunately, I enjoy my
own company. So, has this online worked out for you?
SxxQit10: Well it has worked
and not worked. It’s been ok. I’ve met some wonderful men on here who have
become friends. I’m also on several others and they’re all about the same.
Me: Don’t knock friends,
they’re a rare commodity these days.
SxxQit10: Oh gosh, I never
do! There’s a guy I met on here who I have to say is one of my best friends.
Me: So, what stops these
guys from being “the right one” I mean, if you believe in that sort
SxxQit10: I do believe in
it. Geeze… let’s see. Where do I begin? Duncan lives in South Carolina. That
about sums that up! LOL Jerry is a bit new to the dating scene and is more
interested in sowing some oats (my humble opinion). His wife cheated on him and
he’s really enjoying being the single bachelor. We had the option of being “friends
with benefits” I suppose, but I can’t do that. I get too emotionally
involved and that’s a big set up for heartache.
Me: I didn’t mean to get too
personal, I’m just inquisitive by nature. Please feel free to tell me to mind
my own business at any time.
SxxQit10: That’s funny. I
was just going to apologize for going too deep. I have a tendency to do that. I
ask LOTS of questions too but I’m an open book. No secrets and if I didn’t want
to talk about something I’d be honest about it. You can ask me anything you
Me: Good, we share that. If I ever cross a line, just let me know. Guaranteed, it was unintentional.
SxxQit10: I promise and
Me: So, since you only seem
to find friends online, do you venture out into the real world dating scene?
SxxQit10: Real world dating scene? Is there one? Ha. I only know of bars I guess but I’m not a bar-going type per se. Then there’s the workplace, but at this point, it’s a dry well.
Me: While I can appreciate a
good pub with friends, it isn’t the ideal place to find a mate. So, what do you
do with your time when you’re not out finding peace in massage therapy or
busting a gut at a Marx Brother flick?
SxxQit10: Hmmmmm… I do
love movies. I read, I write, I play with my son, I belong to a theatre
workshop in NYC and we’re trying to get something going. I love to walk in the
woods, take photos, live music and theater when I can. I’m currently up for a
new job in NYC. If I land that, I’ll be moving a tad bit closer for commuting
purposes and upgrading my life a bit.
Me: I was about to ask you
about the theatre group. Good luck with the job. If you do produce something
and if it’s local, let me know. I support the arts, naturally.
SxxQit10: I sure will and
thanks! You know I have to say 95% match is unheard of. I don’t know what it
means (after all I agree with you about those awards, complete bs). Have you
filled out a lot of tests or something?
Me: No, I haven’t done the
tests yet (still new to this) but I plan on it.
SxxQit10: You can look at my tests and click on a link to any of those if you fancy them.
Me: I guess if I’m going to
do this, might as well go whole hog. Tests, journals and the like.
SxxQit10: I’ve stayed away
from the journal for some reason. Not sure why.
Me: I’m surprised, open book
SxxQit10: I guess I don’t
want random people in my head. It’s crowded enough in there already!!! And most
men probably wouldn’t like what I said on there and that would ruin my already
Me: Not even room for one more?
SxxQit10: There’s always
room for one more! LOL
Me: Good. The sound of
knocking you hear is me. Open the door at your convenience.
SxxQit10: Enter! That
reminds me of The Sunshine Boys. Come in, and ENTER!
Me: Sunshine Boys? You
really do like movies!
SxxQit10: Like you have NO
Me: You and I are going to
be friends for life, as long as movies exist.
SxxQit10: Fantastic! I’ve
been desperate for a good movie-buddy! Where are you from originally?
Me: Manhattan born and bred.
Lived in all five boroughs, currently residing in Staten Island. Ick.
SxxQit10: Why there then.
BTW – grew up in Hell’s Kitchen myself. Been in NJ since 1989.
Me: Moved to Staten Island
because that’s where the job is. Ferry commuting was a pain.
SxxQit10: Ah. I believe it.
What’s the job?
Me: I work for a tattoo
company, creating and licensing tattoo artwork.
SxxQit10: How many do you
Me: Not a one. It’s my job,
not my lifestyle.
SxxQit10: Whoa. Would you
care if I had one?
Me: Not at all. Do you?
SxxQit10: Yes, a map of
postwar Europe across my entire back… just kidding…
Me: Awww, that would have
SxxQit10: ROFL You are
Me: Nope, you’re just an
SxxQit10: I have two. A
Celtic heart about the size of a plum at the base of my neck and a small
dragonfly on my shoulder.
Me: You also referenced
dragonflies in your profile. Any significance?
SxxQit10: The dragonfly is
very important to me. It was my spiritual totem during the hardest part of my
life. My divorce. If you believe in that sort of thing. I’m a very spiritual
but don’t subscribe to any religion. I’m very open to all things. There’s a
cool story to all that, but I’ll save it for another time.
Me: Sigh. Typical woman.
Always holding out on the good stuff.
SxxQit10: Oh no!
Me: Oh yes
SxxQit10: Gosh, I’d hoped
you’d never say those words about me! Nothing typical about me. But I guess I’m
wrong… sigh… sob…
Me: Dry your tears,
youngling. You can still grow from this…
SxxQit10: The story is
better in person anyway.
Me: Sounds like an
SxxQit10: I guess it is.
SxxQit10: Ok then. I have to
ask this… please don’t be a freak. Not sure I can take another unsuspected
hmmm. No, not a freak. But like yourself, not typical. And it doesn’t have to
be immediate. You can suss me out a bit before a real-life meeting.
SxxQit10: That’s OK. We can’t be expected to tolerate the typical in a friendship or potential relationship. And that’s very cool of you to say. Already tells me you’re not a freak.
Me: Ask me all those
questions that the Feds use to flush out lunatics.
SxxQit10: I don’t know any
of them? What are they? Do you floss? LOL Do you wear your underwear on your
Me: Did you ever pull the
wings off flies as a kid?
SxxQit10: Oh right!
Me: Only when I’m drunk,
does that count?
SxxQit10: Ha. No. It doesn’t
count. I don’t think I ever did that. But… I might have held a magnifying
glass on an ant or two.
Me: Whew! Good…I’m still
in the running. You burned ants? Murderer!
SxxQit10: : ( I know. Why
are kids so cruel? To animals, each other… I don’t get it. Just pushing the
boundaries of right and wrong I suppose.
Me: Actually, I rolled ants
into my Silly Putty ball thinking I could open it up and retrieve them later.
SxxQit10: I love it! Silly
Putty! Wasn’t that the best?
Me: I loved Silly Putty.
SxxQit10: I have an 8-year-old son.
Me: I was just about to ask.
SxxQit10: He lives primarily
with his Dad and Stepmom about 5 miles from me. I have him 2 days a week and
Me: Is he happy?
SxxQit10: He seems extremely
happy and well adjusted.
Me: It’s a sign. Good. Are
you happy? With the arrangement, I mean.
SxxQit10: I was separated
almost 6 years ago. There’s a big story, well, not big but emotional story
about how things fell out, but all in all I am happy with things. As long as
Charlie (my son) is thriving and happy. That’s all that matters. He’s a bright,
beautiful child. I think he may be a writer someday.
Me: Excellent. The world
needs more writers. Well, you seem very fortunate. I’m happy for you. Thanks. I
SxxQit10: Have you noticed
we’ve answered most all of our questions with the same answer?
Me: I’m sure that once I
start answering more questions, the algorithm is going to affect my Match
percentages, but yes, our basic questions are on track with one another. And
I’m glad. It convinced you to chat with me this afternoon.
SxxQit10: I don’t think it
convinced me, but I’m pretty amazed. It’s unusual.
Me: Hopefully, I’ve made a
SxxQit10: You definitely
have! : )
Me: Even though you’re probably one of those freaks you mentioned earlier (which is fine, but please don’t be a 65-year-old man toying with people on the internet). Ick, that thought gives me the chills
SxxQit10: Hysterical. Just
FYI. My pics are current (the one with my hair in my hands is about a year old)
and my information is perfectly honest. I could never lead with a lie. So my
advice to you (to assist you on this online dating roller coaster) is to get a
couple more pictures up (a full length or close) and complete the rest of your
description. It will help you land lots of chicks! 😉 and… Call me Irving.
Me: Yeah, that’s me the
SxxQit10: Well, why wouldn’t
Me: I knew it! Irv the perv! Ha! That’s going to be your pet name from now on. No one will know why!
Me: Oh, you know it! I am Irv for as long as I know you!
SxxQit10: So why don’t you
think you’re a chick magnet?
Me: I grow on people. I’m
the type you have to get to know.
SxxQit10: Like fungus?
SxxQit10: : ) Damn. I have a mold allergy. Are you shy? You
don’t seem so.
Me: You’ll get a little sneezy at first but it’ll run its course and you’ll adapt to me in time. I’m an ok kind of fungus.
SxxQit10: Cool. Do you have
a spiritual practice of any kind? Meditation, etc. I’m just curious, reading
your profile again. Your talk of “ego” made me ask.
Me: Sometimes I’m shy,
sometimes I’m not.
SxxQit10: I understand. Do
you get out a lot?
Me: I am not religious by
any stretch of the imagination. I do love theology, though, especially the
apocypha and psuedepigrapha… as far as spirituality… I am open to there
being a force in the Universe.
SxxQit10: Same here.
Me: I’ve started going out
socially last year.
SxxQit10: How was it?
Me: Interesting, but nothing
to write home about. Mostly wine-tastings (I’m a beer guy) and movies, a few dinners
here and there.
SxxQit10: Well, we’re going
to change that. I don’t mean me necessarily, but I can help you. I’m almost an
expert on women and relationships… after all, I’m a woman and have been in a
few relationships! What’s your favorite beer?
Me: Dogfish Head IPA 120
SxxQit10: I’m a wine-chick.
Wine and tequila, but I stay away from tequila now…
SxxQit10: Ah Dogfish Head,
Me: Oh, tequilla bad…I
SxxQit10: Yeah, Tequila…
makes me do things…
Me: Underwear on the head!
SxxQit10: More like no shirt
in the street…
Me: You absolutely rock.
SxxQit10: It was a long time
ago. It was very late and there wasn’t anyone else around… REALLY!!! And yes,
I do absolutely rock.
Me: Shirtless Irv!
SxxQit10: That’s great!
Me: Irvs Gone Wild! I’d buy
SxxQit10: I’m in the editing room now. Oh, did I mention I used to edit video for a living?
Me: Really? Why’d you give
SxxQit10: I gave it up to be
a full-time Mom, but that got sidetracked. It’s another long story for a face
to face. There’s a lot to you isn’t there? You’re complex and deep aren’t you?
Me: Deep as a puddle
SxxQit10: Pish Tosh, I don’t
Me: I’m humble and lovable.
SxxQit10: That’s ok, you’re
not boasting but I was asking. Why are you lovable? Your opinion matters!
Me: I don’t know. Can you
find yourself lovable?
SxxQit10: Maybe after too
many long nights alone in the woods…
Me: with tequilla
SxxQit10: Ha Ha!
Me: Shirtless With The
SxxQit10: I’m cracking up.
Me: So, what keeps you in on
a Saturday afternoon? Why aren’t you out breaking hearts?
SxxQit10: I am, but I can do
it remotely. Or remotely do it? Ummmm. I’m writing. I rarely get a free
Saturday and I’ve been trying to get this play past my block/wall/stuck-point.
I’m never on this site for more than 5 mins at a time and how long have we been
at this today?
Me: An hour at least. Am I
keeping you from writing?
SxxQit10: Actually no. I
signed on here to take a break but never expected it to last this long!
Me: Well, I’m flattered.
SxxQit10: Are you a sports
fan at all?
Me: Fan? No. I watch a bit
of boxing and UFC and the occasional rugby match, but not a diehard fan. You?
SxxQit10: I go back and forth. Rugby, now that I would watch. You seem to have a more than average European sensibility. Is that true? I grew up a diehard Yankee fan but watching baseball bores me unless you’re at the game. I like watching football, but I never seem to have the time. I’d rather play sports than watch them.
Me: Last time I was at a baseball game, I was 4, rooting for the Mets. I am a bit of an Anglophile (I devour a lot of Brit telly and film)
SxxQit10: I like that about
Me: A friend has a British
ISP so I get to watch a great deal of Telly when the BBC posts them.
SxxQit10: BBC is the best. I
knew that when I was twelve or was it 8?
Me: There was a Scottish
sitcom called “Still Game” that was hilarious. Developing an ear for
the language was fun.
SxxQit10: Yay, Scots!
Me: Yay, Scots, indeed!
Every year I watch the Hogmanay celebration
SxxQit10: I love my Scottish
heritage. I’ve always wanted to go. I got close, made it to London and Dublin,
but couldn’t get to Scotland! : (
Me: So, Miss
Play-Writer’s-Block, what’s your play about?
SxxQit10: Sad people,
alcoholics, judgment, facades, you know… it’s children’s theatre.
Me: Alcoholic kids? I’m in!
One ticket, please!
SxxQit10: It’s about a bar in Clifton, NJ and the regulars who are well… regular. It’s an examination of that lifestyle and the relationships that extend from that.
Me: Sounds simple enough.
Where are you stuck at?
SxxQit10: Um… I always get stuck at the end of the “first act” not literally separated by acts, but more the first large chunk. And last night or recently…? I came up with a plan to scale that wall. A big decision about the dynamic that takes the piece in a new direction, but a good one.
Me: Need help? I don’t
profess to be great, but I could offer assistance… maybe. Or not. Your call
SxxQit10: That’s OK. I’m
really shy about my writing. I appreciate the offer tho!
Me: Fine. Didn’t mean to
SxxQit10: You didn’t!
Me: Rejected. Unloved.
SxxQit10: I really am shy
about my writing. I didn’t even show anyone for 10 years!
Me: Fine, offer up whatever
excuse you have to.
SxxQit10: Question: everybody on this site lies about their weight, so how much weight would you like to lose. I’ve got about 20 to lose.
Me: 20’s a good target for
me. 30 and I’d be a Greek God!
SxxQit10: Which Greek God?
Me: The fat one. Porkulus.
SxxQit10: ROFL! That is
funny. Good one. Man, I like your humor.
Me: Nope, you’re an easy
SxxQit10: No but see, I’m
Me: Then thank you for
lowering your standards for the sake of this chat. Humble! That’s me.
SxxQit10: More like Humbug!
Me: Used to pluck the wings off humbugs when I was a kid. Callback!
SxxQit10: I thought that was
handbags? or handsaw? Anyway, now I’m on a real tangent~
Me: I don’t do handbags,
sweetie…I carry a murse.
Hahahahah! I need some tea.
Me: I fellow tea
SxxQit10: Would you mind if
I excused myself for a min or two? You can tell me more about your life story
if you like. At least tell me what kind of writing you do?
Me: Sure, go do your thing.
SxxQit10: Thanks, back!
Me: Well, about the only
things I haven’t written (read as:
Completed) are a play and a novel.
SxxQit10: So what are you
Me: I used to write and
publish my own comic books (don’t laugh, it’s a mode of storytelling)
SxxQit10: Don’t they call
them graphic novels?
Me: Yeah, now they’re
graphic novels, when I did them they were comics.
SxxQit10: OK, so comic
books, writer, shy, loves the BBC, movies… I’m painting a picture here.
Me: I also write short
stories, some of which have been published
SxxQit10: Are these science
fiction stories perhaps????
Me: Now I write screenplays,
some of which I self-direct and other that I submit into competitions.
SxxQit10: Very cool!
Me: Some are science
fiction. most are speculative fiction.
Fiction? Like Neal Stephenson? Is that what you’d call him? Dunno.
Me: Yes, and Harlan Ellison
and the like.
SxxQit10: So… are you
Me: By you? When I first
read your profile. Stop fishing for compliments.
SxxQit10: You already know
me so well! So you must know who Eddie Izzard is, right?
Me: Yes, I know Eddie
Izzard, in fact, he was recently in the BBC TV remake of Day of the Triffids.
SxxQit10: Really? I’m a big
fan of EI. How often do you get into the city?
Me: Usually whenever there’s
an event, but I’m always open for traveling. I don’t hang in Staten Island.
SxxQit10: Would you be up
for meeting for tea on Sunday?
Me: Sure, why not?
Me: Wait, are you sure I’m
not a freak?
SxxQit10: No, I’m not, but
this is the only way I’ll know for sure.
Me: Risk taker… nice.
SxxQit10: My theatre group
starts at 5: 30. I can come in anytime before that. Not so much risk taker as
incurable curious nature.
Me: Name a time and place
that’s convenient for you.
SxxQit10: tea… tea…
um… how is The Russian Tea Room? Just kidding. Are you a Starbucks hater?
Me: No love, no hate. We can
SxxQit10: I think there’s
one around times square (huh, ya think?) that would be good for me and easy for
you to get to.
Me: Don’t worry about me.
What’s good for you?
SxxQit10: That is good for
me. (see above) What time is good for you?
Me: I’m open. You’re the one
with time constraints.
SxxQit10: Let’s say 1? Does
that work for you?
Me: Sure. 1:00pm in the
general vicinity of Times Square
SxxQit10: I know there is one on 42nd closer to 8th than 7th and on the north side of the street, but I think there is also one on 43rd and 8th. Either one is fine. Wow – that’s tomorrow, isn’t it?
Me: It doesn’t have to be
tomorrow, Missy Rushy-Pants
SxxQit10: Yes it does.
Monday my carriage turns back into a pumpkin
Me: I’ll help you roll the
pumpkin back to your house, Cinders.
SxxQit10: No. I’d much
rather it be sooner than later. Am I rushing you? We don’t have to if you’re at
Me: I understand. Inspect
the goods, see if it’s worth your time.
SxxQit10: No. That’s not it
Me: You writers are all
SxxQit10: I think it might
dictate the direction of our friendship, but you already are worth my time,
Me: That’s what they all
Me: Them. You. You know.
SxxQit10: The infamous them.
Me: The rest of the planet.
SxxQit10: Well, that’s not
Me: So Irv, in order to
facilitate this brush-off meeting, do you want my phone number or is that too
forward? I don’t want to send you screaming.
SxxQit10: Oh you’re funny.
Yes, let’s exchange phone numbers in case the train breaks down or some other
thing. I don’t scream usually. I’m human.
SxxQit10: You always have
the option of screaming and running yourself.
Me: I’m far too polite for
SxxQit10: OK then we’ll both
be stuck there desperately wanting to run, but not being able to because we’re
both so damned polite! Nice. Funny.
Me: Nah, it’ll be fine. We
can walk and chat and it’ll be fine.
SxxQit10: I think we’ve been
chatting for almost 3 hours. That’s crazy. I could continue but I should get
back to the play.
Me: Not a problem. I don’t
want to keep you from work.
SxxQit10: Can I call you
Me: Sure, anytime.
SxxQit10: OK. Maybe after
Me: Fine. I’ll be looking
forward to it.
SxxQit10: Me too. Talk to
you later then?
Me: Sounds like a plan. Now go write your play so you can show me the completed first act, shy writer.
Sure enough, ‘round about dinner time, the young lady calls and we proceed to engage in another three-plus hour conversation about absolutely nothing. She was a bit more skilled in the game than I was. For every two bits of useless topics or jokes, she’d ask a question to size me up. Did I have hair? How many children by how many different women? How much do you drink? Do you have a temper? Can you solve Goldbach’s conjecture? Okay, maybe not the last one, but she had her list prepared, and I didn’t call her on it. I suppose a woman meeting an internet stranger has to be cautious.
the day of the flesh meet and long story short… there was no chemistry.
Politeness. Light conversation. And that was all she wrote. Guess algorithms
can’t match everything, huh?
Other uneventful dates included an actual rocket scientist obsessed with blueberries and the Frazier TV show, a nature hiker who loved squirrels just a bit too much and a Mensa member who constantly tried to downplay her intelligence because of her mother’s deep-rooted conditioning.
Unlucky at blogging, unlucky at love, as the saying goes.
The world is full of folks who appreciate nature and the great outdoors to the point of creating a mental happy place of some idyllic green pasture.
That ain’t me.
City boy born and bred. Concrete, glass and steel comprise my Garden of Eden. Yet, despite not being blessed with a green thumb, I planted something today.
Okay, idea is a bit of a stretch. It’s more like a plot germ. As it stands, it’s a weak and feeble thing prematurely delivered into the world that requires incubation, so I decided to commit it to the ground at the back of beyond in my mind and ignore it until it has the strength to claw its way out of the story grave.
But don’t feel too sorry for it, though. It’s not alone. It’s planted beside random bits of cool dialogue that I’ll never be able to work into a real-world conversation and nebulous set pieces that don’t quite mesh with any of my existing stories. They’re all tucked away in my own personal mental pet cemetery.
The soil of a writer’s mind is stonier; a writer grows what they can imagine and scribes it.
Apologies for the bastardization of your quote, Mr. King.
And no, I won’t tell you what the plot germ is. Not out of fear of it being stolen but simply because:
You wouldn’t understand it in its present form, and
I’m not superstitious but I firmly believe in the dreaded jinx. If I tell you what it is, it’ll never grow.
So, I will go about my business and occupy my mind with trivialities and allow my subconscious to absently weed my preemie idea seed.
I’ll wait until it breaks free of its chrysalis as a brain-soil stained vision with roots that encircle the heart of a story that I cannot wait to write.
Until then, I’ll follow the sage advice of Mssr. Ron Popeil, hawker of the infamous Showtime Rotisserie Oven and, “Set it and forget it.”
Even though it’s true that I’ve written as far back as I can remember, there were people along the way who either directly or indirectly inspired me to create and as a part of my planting memories in a retrievable location for later use, I’d like to acknowledge as many of those individuals as I can recall, while I’m still able to recall. FYI, this will be one of those long and winding roads to a heartfelt thank you, so if you’d rather move on to juicier posts, I won’t hold it against you.
Some stories are meant for you…this one is meant for me.
I’ve lived with a variety of people and families growing up. My mother was an unconventional woman who lived life the best way she could manage, but that lifestyle couldn’t bear the weight of additional passengers, so I was often the extra bit of her life that she couldn’t quite fit into her travel bag when she was bitten by the wanderlust bug.
I won’t bore you with tales and half-remembrances of the various and sundry family doorways I’ve darkened in my youth—not now, at least—but sometime back in the early seventies I landed in the final household of strangers I’d ever be forced to call family. Don’t bother pressing me on an exact date. My mind doesn’t do date-stamped memories all that well. The family isn’t the focus of this story, the kid who lived across the street is. A kid named Gary.
Gary was several years older than me and how or why we became friends is still a mystery, but we used to talk about superheroes into the night—-in particular, Captain America and Bucky. You see, Gary’s take on the whole superhero thing was that it was actually doable, given the proper dedication to the cause and constant training. In the mind of a normal kid, these talks should have been one of those topics that you explored as a fantasy and laughed about when you bumped into your childhood friend years later on some random street corner.
But bugs have a nasty habit of planting themselves in my brain.
I trained every day, sometimes with Gary, but mostly without, trying to duplicate some of the more physically achievable moves found in comic book panels or mimicking fight scenes from TV shows, especially those Shatnerific Kirk-moves from Star Trek. Yeah, I know, but I was a kid, remember?
And I believed in the superhero cause so much that I began recruiting members, much the same as the X-Men’s mentor, Charles Xavier, in order to create my own Avengers or Justice League. Carefully selected individuals who were kindhearted and often bullied, kids who could be taught to fight back for a cause larger than self. It soon blossomed into a superhero big brother program.
Gary hated the team idea, but to his credit, he stuck around longer than I thought he would have and even trained with us on the odd occasion, but eventually, he hung up his cape and cowl and called it quits. Shortly thereafter he informed me that we had to stop being friends because his mother thought I was a bad influence on him.
She wouldn’t be the last mother to have that impression of me.
I was saddened by his departure, sure, I mean it was initially his idea, but I had a group to run, and our roster was growing. We had the nimble guy, the scrapper, the acrobatic guy, the tagalong guy (hey, he was my best friend and I couldn’t say no, even though he wasn’t truly committed to the cause, he just wanted to hang out), and the leader guy (me), but we were still missing one key ingredient… the muscle guy.
Turns out the acrobatic guy knew someone from school whom he thought would fit the bill perfectly. Enter: Derrick. Hated him from the moment I clapped eyes on him and the feeling was probably mutual. We met at our headquarters. The X-Men had the School For Gifted Children, The Avengers had a mansion, the Justice League had the Secret Sanctuary (inside a cave in Happy Harbor) and we had…the public library.
Our first meeting was across the table in the Children’s section of the library (hey, it was the only empty section after school) and Derrick sat there grunting and throwing bits of paper at me for some odd reason. He was weird, to be sure, but I chalked it up to muscle guy mentality, bit the bullet, and despite my intense dislike of the kid, accepted him into our ranks. Not like I was inundated with candidates for the position.
I don’t know how long we kept it going, my memory being the spotty thing it is, but I think we had at least one solid summer of training for The Superhero Thing. Yes, that’s what we called it. Well, we eventually came up with an official name, but that’s a story for another time.
And since all good things must come to an end, the following summer the group disbanded when all the members moved away to parts unknown. The only person who remained was Derrick. We kept the group alive for as long as we could in comic book form, drawing our exploits as we battled Mugly, Schmultron the Schmobot, Quirst (yup, named after the drink… it was a tragic soda factory accident that set him on the path of evil) and other baddies either based on real people or swiped and modified from the pages of our favorite comics. We’d even sometimes swap pages and continue each other’s stories. Derrick would, of course, eventually grow up and live the life of a proper adult, while I went on to publish comic books for a seven-year stint.
So, a tip of the hat to both Gary (don’t worry, your mom was probably right) and Derrick (stop whining, dude, I didn’t use your last name, so your secret identity is still intact) for providing me with creative outlets. Especially since they’re so very hard to come by these days.
PS. Derrick is the only childhood friend I’ve managed to keep throughout the years. Go figure.
P.P.S. If I may be so bold as to quote Elwood Blues, “I’m thinking of putting the band back together.” so if you were a member of The Superhero Thing and you’re reading this, I’d advise you to brush off the latex. It’s crime fighting time!
“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” ― Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus
There are different types of stories. Some you share, some that transform themselves into other creative endeavors, some that are stillborn with no hope of resuscitation, and some that you hide from everyone, sometimes even yourself.
When I wore a younger man’s clothes, I wrote a story. One that I’ve never shared, one that will never transform itself into another work of art, one I have not read since its inception. But every so often when my mind settles into a rare resting mode and all my thoughts become inconsequential white noise, the story whispers to me so that I don’t forget it. It does what it needs to do in order to survive.
No, it’s not a true confession, nor is it based on or inspired by true events. There’s no deep-seated ideological conviction behind it. It’s also not the most powerful or hard-hitting thing I’ve ever written. Hell, the thing isn’t even written in my voice. Chiefly because it’s not my story.
The story belongs to someone else, told to me in part before she died.
Rose loved to tell stories to take her mind off her illness, so we’d meet occasionally when her health allowed or sometimes talk over the phone and she would spin her vignettes. She wasn’t a professional writer so the stories were uneven and structurally unsound, but they were enjoyable nonetheless. She was witty and articulate and sometimes, but not too often, a good telling trumps structure.
And she continued telling stories until the pain became too much to bear, but before Rose died she said to me, “complete it,” and slow on the uptake as I can often be, I didn’t catch her meaning until months later.
It wasn’t an easy process. When I finally wrote the story down as close to verbatim as my past-its-sell-by-date memory could manage, I looked at the work and was confounded by what I could actually do with it. At first, I wanted to restructure and outline everything so that I could plot a logical ending, but that wouldn’t have been true to Rose’s storytelling style. A style I had become very protective of.
In the end, I decided this wasn’t a story that could be written, only transcribed, so I sat in front of a mirror with a digital recorder and recited the fragments Rose left me as a parting gift and traveled down a nonstructural road to see where it led me.
And I didn’t go it alone. I could feel Rose’s hand in mine, leading me down the path to the story’s final destination.
Sally forth and be damn-the-structure-and-just-tell-your-damned-storyingly writeful.
Native New Yorker, born in Manhattan, raised in The Bronx, and because I inherited my mother’s transient nature, I’ve managed to live in each of the five boroughs. Poor as a skunk’s misery, a church mouse, Job, Lazarus, and dirt. Hell, I’m still poor, and most likely always will be.
The best thing about growing up without anything is that you learn to make the most of what you’ve got and distract yourself from what you haven’t got. My major distraction was television.
It was my babysitter, my tutor, and my secret friend that entertained me as the rest of the world slept. Its siren call would lure me into the living room, where I’d toss my blanket over the both of us so the light didn’t spill out of the room and give away my position. Then I’d plug my mono transistor radio earphone into the headphone jack and marvel at all the noir, horror and science fiction movies that played on CBS’ The Late Show, The Late Late Show, and The Late Late Late Show.
I was always a wreck in school the following day, but man was it worth it.
The only thing that trumped this near nightly process was the first Saturday of the month. Like most poor folk, we were on welfare and this was before the Food Stamp bill was passed in 1970 which meant everything, rent, bills, and food monies arrived in the mailbox in one convenient check. The Saturday that followed check day was always considered my day. Wherever I wanted to go, wherever I wanted to play.
My playground of choice? 42nd Street. The first stop was Tad’s Steak House. Sure, the broiled steak was thin and more gristle than meat, the garlic bread was oilier than Brylcreem, the chocolate pudding coated with that yucky skin and a fountain Coke served in a large red plastic tumbler that smelled like the previous beverage it held… but to me, it was pure heaven.
Then my mother gestured at the movie theaters that lined both sides of the street and said the most perfect thing anyone could have said to me at the time, “You can see all the movies you can stay awake for.”
These were once majestic movie houses that slowly transformed during the decline of New York City starting in the late 50’s into grindhouse theaters before grindhouse was even a word. Each one ran three films, usually one current and the others whatever was on hand.
On these magic Saturdays, I tore through Roger Corman flicks, Hammer Films, the Toho tokusatsu imports and so much more. All uninterrupted viewing aside from the occasional mom hand that would clamp over my eyes during nude or sex scenes. Only when I started to nod off was it time to head home, despite my protestations.
On the way home, we’d stop off at the Horn & Hardart automat and my mother would dump tokens into my hand and send me off to fetch dinner from the individual glass door compartments. Even though it was only plain food — sandwiches, beef stew, and the like — there was something about slotting coins and retrieving a prize that appealed to me.
The final detour before reaching home was the Optimo Cigars shop that had a spinning wire rack of comic books where I’d select my month’s reading material.
I realize this may not seem like any great shakes to you, but it remains the only positive memory I have of my mother — too long and too personal a story to go into here — and I can’t think of a better way to honor the anniversary of her passing.
Sally forth and be playground exploringly writeful.
My secret self—the bit of me that hides in plain sight just behind a corner of reality—has been wandering my memory palace of late, searching for an empty room in which to steal a bit of solitude for I sometimes need to swaddle my internal dialogue in silence when even the quietest place on earth can offer me no rest.
You might have surmised correctly that I’ve been met with very little success.
Oh, there are rooms aplenty in which I enjoy the occasional lounge-about, each filled with bric-à-brac I’ve accumulated along the way. Items or concepts or vagueries that may or may not find their way into a story, plot germs that piqued my interest for one reason or another, displayed neatly on shelves beside those things kept precious, but each of these pieces of me gives off unique vibrations that assault my mind’s ear like anamnestic tinnitus.
A few of my unused characters who can afford the steep rent have made the suggestions that I either choose my favorite among them to room with or take turns bunking with every one of them for short periods as not to overstay my welcome.
But that really isn’t my style. I like the idea of knowing where characters are so that I might visit them and engage in brief social interactions when I’m in the mood, and leave them to their own devices when I’ve had my fill. And although I am quite capable of being alone in a crowded room, I cannot find solitude with people around, not even the people in my mind, the ones that I have breathed life into.
My irritation at not being able to claim residence in a place that I have been constructing since childhood is beginning to infect other areas of my life. My current location annoys me. My inability to write annoys me. The presence of other people annoys me. The sameness of the day annoys me. Even my annoyance at everything annoys me.
And so Wednesday comes ’round and I am attempting to build a new foundation for the memory palace extension on the lone and level sands of ground-down ideas, in a new territory where the old housing rules may not apply. Eventually, when my hoarder nature reveals itself and this section of the palace becomes filled with miscellanea most likely better left forgotten…
I’ll repeat the process. Search for my own patch of solitude. Light a candle and still curse the darkness. Build another room. And fill it with possessions that squeeze me to the point of eviction.
But until then, sally forth and be buying me a nice room-warming giftingly writeful.
My past often crossed paths with my present, but never with the people I desired to see again. Because of this, I’m always filled with an odd mix of embarrassing nostalgia and unwanted reflection, followed by the inevitable introspection. I see where old acquaintances are in their lives and I can’t help but look at where I am in relation to my dreams and aspirations.
No matter if you’re the outgrower (the disinterested party) or the outgrown (the rejected party), neither are comfortable during a random meeting. Also, dealing with people from my past have had the effect of feeling like I was moving backward. As if all the growth I’d experienced after being separated from that person vanished because they’re present in my life again.
And these chance encounters happened in the damnedest places. At the time the incident that is the subject of this post occurred, I was tucked away in a small town in a new state on the opposite coast when I ran into a childhood friend. Well, friend might have been a bit of a stretch. She wasn’t really friends with anyone. Truer to say we ran in the same circles. Even truer than that, we ran in different circles that sometimes overlapped like a Venn diagram of societal misfit kids.
Rough and rugged, tough as nails, she took no shit off anyone, not even her parents. She went her own way, did her own thing, and everyone in the neighborhood, kid and adult alike knew she’d most likely end up either dead or in prison. Some people only left their future open for those two options.
Anyway, I was at the local thrift store when I heard someone calling my name. I assumed it couldn’t be me since I knew exactly zero people in Los Angeles, but as this person kept calling, my curiosity got the better of me and turned to see her: Tamika.
It took me a moment to work out who she was. Not that the years hadn’t been kind to her, it was just that she wasn’t a person I had ever thought about remembering.
She, on the other hand, treated me like we were lifelong buddies. Big hugs and kisses and a smile that could have lit the Hollywood Bowl. Time has a funny way of altering the past. She remembered our relationship very differently than I had.
So, we did what people who hadn’t seen one another in ages do. We shared past stories, gave abridged accounts of our lives since then, and painted the brightest possible picture for our futures. And me being me, I remarked on how I never thought I’d see her ever again. Of all the people, not including those that had passed, she was easily the last person I ever expected to clap eyes on.
She hadn’t taken offense. She knew better than anyone the type of person she was back then and she said she probably would have fulfilled everyone’s prophesy of jail or death if not for Chickie.
Chickie was the only other person who could’ve matched Tammy pound for pound. Cut from the same cloth, sisters from a different mister, they were thick as thieves. And probably would have been for life, had Chickie not met her maker at the claw end of a hammer in a drug deal gone horribly wrong.
That’s when Tam found the way.
My internal groan was so loud I feared she might’ve heard it. I myself am areligious, and though I don’t begrudge anyone their spiritual beliefs, I have a hard time listening to the sanctimony of proselytizing born-agains.
But she hadn’t found Jesus, at least not in that way. Nor had she joined a cult. She claimed she simply hit rock bottom and having no one to turn to, sat down and wrote out a list of commandments for herself. A self-imposed list of rules in which she would like to live by.
And while I wish I could remember the list verbatim–my memory, unfortunately, has a mind of its own–I instead offer up a similar list that contains many of Tamika’s instructions for living a good life:
The 82 Commandments of Alejandro Jodorowsky
1. Ground your attention on yourself. Be conscious at every moment of what you are thinking, sensing, feeling, desiring, and doing.
2. Always finish what you have begun.
3. Whatever you are doing, do it as well as possible.
4. Do not become attached to anything that can destroy you in the course of time.
5. Develop your generosity – but secretly.
6. Treat everyone as if he or she was a close relative.
7. Organize what you have disorganized.
8. Learn to receive and give thanks for every gift.
9. Stop defining yourself.
10. Do not lie or steal, for you lie to yourself and steal from yourself.
11. Help your neighbor, but do not make him dependent.
12. Do not encourage others to imitate you.
13. Make work plans and accomplish them.
14. Do not take up too much space.
15. Make no useless movements or sounds.
16. If you lack faith, pretend to have it.
17. Do not allow yourself to be impressed by strong personalities.
18. Do not regard anyone or anything as your possession.
19. Share fairly.
20. Do not seduce.
21. Sleep and eat only as much as necessary.
22. Do not speak of your personal problems.
23. Do not express judgment or criticism when you are ignorant of most of the factors involved.
24. Do not establish useless friendships.
25. Do not follow fashions.
26. Do not sell yourself.
27. Respect contracts you have signed.
28. Be on time.
29. Never envy the luck or success of anyone.
30. Say no more than necessary.
31. Do not think of the profits your work will engender.
32. Never threaten anyone.
33. Keep your promises.
34. In any discussion, put yourself in the other person’s place.
35. Admit that someone else may be superior to you.
36. Do not eliminate, but transmute.
37. Conquer your fears, for each of them represents a camouflaged desire.
38. Help others to help themselves.
39. Conquer your aversions and come closer to those who inspire rejection in you.
40. Do not react to what others say about you, whether praise or blame.
41. Transform your pride into dignity.
42. Transform your anger into creativity.
43. Transform your greed into respect for beauty.
44. Transform your envy into admiration for the values of the other.
45. Transform your hate into charity.
46. Neither praise nor insult yourself.
47. Regard what does not belong to you as if it did belong to you.
48. Do not complain.
49. Develop your imagination.
50. Never give orders to gain the satisfaction of being obeyed.
51. Pay for services performed for you.
52. Do not proselytize your work or ideas.
53. Do not try to make others feel for you emotions such as pity, admiration, sympathy, or complicity.
54. Do not try to distinguish yourself by your appearance.
55. Never contradict; instead, be silent.
56. Do not contract debts; acquire and pay immediately.
57. If you offend someone, ask his or her pardon; if you have offended a person publicly, apologize publicly.
58. When you realize you have said something that is mistaken, do not persist in error through pride; instead, immediately retract it.
59. Never defend your old ideas simply because you are the one who expressed them.
60. Do not keep useless objects.
61. Do not adorn yourself with exotic ideas.
62. Do not have your photograph taken with famous people.
63. Justify yourself to no one, and keep your own counsel.
64. Never define yourself by what you possess.
65. Never speak of yourself without considering that you might change.
66. Accept that nothing belongs to you.
67. When someone asks your opinion about something or someone, speak only of his or her qualities.
68. When you become ill, regard your illness as your teacher, not as something to be hated.
69. Look directly, and do not hide yourself.
70. Do not forget your dead, but accord them a limited place and do not allow them to invade your life.
71. Wherever you live, always find a space that you devote to the sacred.
72. When you perform a service, make your effort inconspicuous.
73. If you decide to work to help others, do it with pleasure.
74. If you are hesitating between doing and not doing, take the risk of doing.
75. Do not try to be everything to your spouse; accept that there are things that you cannot give him or her but which others can.
76. When someone is speaking to an interested audience, do not contradict that person and steal his or her audience.
77. Live on money you have earned.
78. Never brag about amorous adventures.
79. Never glorify your weaknesses.
80. Never visit someone only to pass the time.
81. Obtain things in order to share them.
82. If you are meditating and a devil appears, make the devil meditate too.
Not being a fan of dogma, creed, or commandments in general, I admit I can find merit in many items on this list as suggestions for people to find their own path in life. Hell, if it worked for Tamika, it damn sure couldn’t hurt giving it a go.
So, sally forth, true believers and blasts from the past, and be making your own commandments and living by themingly writeful.