“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.
“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.” ― Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
I have a memory like a sieve. My recollections of the past come to me in flashes and snippets and I have to be mindful not to fall into one of the many great blank holes when traipsing around in half-forgotten yesterdays. Part of it is the result of a built-in self-defense mechanism, tamping down the harmful events that one never quite survives intact. The rest? Just plain negligence. I am a poor caretaker of retrospection.
And for a while, I wasn’t bothered by it. Then I reached a point in life when memories—–of love and pain and the whole damned thing—-became important because I found myself wanting to catalog my journey before I reached the end of the race (it’s always closer than you expect and they say you never see the finish line with your name on it).
But now, when I recount the tales of the various and sundry someones who impacted my life before blowing away like a leaf in the wind, someones whose names I used to be able to recite by rote, those names have now taken up permanent residence on the tip of my tongue but never so close as to venture past my lips.
I find that in order to remember a past event, I have to place it in a location that’s visible so that I don’t misplace it along with my keys and smartphone. I have chosen this place as the soil in which to plant my evaporating memories before they’re gone forever.
I put this moment here:
Of the girl that I fancied in the first grade whose name might have been Cheryl or Shirley but for some reason I remember it as “Squirrel,” whom I wrote about when the teacher asked the class to write about something we loved. And that selfsame teacher thinking it was so adorable that she took me to Squirrel’s class and made me read it aloud to her. You’re never too young to discover embarrassment.
I put this moment here:
Of the German woman who made me my first brown bag lunch for school that consisted of a healthy liverwurst sandwich which I enjoyed the taste of but stopped eating altogether after being teased at school by the other kids for eating dog food. It hurt her feelings and I wish I had a stronger conviction to continue eating the lunches she prepared with love.
I put this moment here:
Of the asexual woman I worked with at a car rental agency who looked like a young Peggy Lipton and lived in New Jersey. I remember riding the Path train to her house and we would regularly break dawn discussing her passion, serial killers. She didn’t own a television and instead had an impressive collection of serial killer and unsolved murder case books. I found her fascinating and in hindsight I suppose I’m lucky that I never went missing.
I put this moment here:
Of the woman I worked with at a banking institution, who I spent a bizarre New Year’s Eve with as we dropped tabs of acid that didn’t work and searched Manhattan for the perfect place to ring in the new year and ended up laying on the grass of Central Park making resolutions and wishing on stars for a better year to come.
Sometimes when my mind is idle, I struggle to recall the names of people and events trapped within synaptic pathways that withered from non-use, names and events I feel I should remember because of the emotions that linger despite the fact the memories have faded and recognition has faltered.
I lament the loss of these remembrances because they’re all a part of me and I’m afraid to learn the answer to what of myself will remain when all the memories have faded away.
Gather ye memories while ye may. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.
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!
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.
“People they come together, People they fall apart,
No one can stop us now, ‘Cause we are all made of stars” — Moby
Ideas spark ideas, as I’m sure you well know, and while contemplating a previous post on the message I would send to my younger self, I was hit with another thought along similar lines, but the scenario requires a little theater of the mind setup first:
It begins with the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute detecting a radio signal that finally confirms the existence of extraterrestrial life. How did the aliens learn of our existence, you ask? You know the deal: Voyager 1 and 2 get swallowed up by a singularity and spit out in the middle of uncharted space and intercepted by a curious and as-yet-thought-to-be-benign alien race. Now quit bogging down my backstory with unnecessary questions.
Top minds–-including astrophysicists, cryptanalysts, linguists and mathematicians–-are called in to decipher the message and after an exhaustive code-breaking session, the oddest thing is found embedded in the communique: My name.
Uh-uh, no questions, remember?
After being properly vetted—they’d have to make sure I’m not some wackadoo that’s gonna build himself an Interocitor using off-world schematics or sell the Earth off to the highest bidder—I’m brought in to begin a controlled dialogue with the alien. During the exchange, my new intergalactic pen pal asks the question: “Who are you?” I answer with my personal history and the reply I get back is, “No, who are you?”
We’re all stumped at this point.
Over a pint and some pub grub, me, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Brian Cox, and Michio Kaku (let’s face it, they’re all my buds at this point) are trying to puzzle this out when I’m struck with an idea, “What if the extraterrestrials are utilizing fourth-dimensional, or higher, level thinking and need broader definitions in which to extrapolate the answers they seek?” The astro-brainiacs think I might be onto something.
[I need to pause the post at this point because I can hear your laughter and it’s a bit disruptive. And rude, if I’m honest. Out of everything so far, the only problem you have is that I offered a solution in an astrophysics think tank? Really?]
And now we get to the meat of the nutshell:
If I had to encode myself into a relatively short information sequence, what sources would I pick?
Since mathematics and I feud constantly and are court-ordered to remain at least 500 yards apart from one another at any given time, I know I can’t make this work on a fundamental science level. My only option is to go the artistic route.
Now, the chore becomes one of selecting 10 works that once read/viewed/listened to/etc., would allow an absolutely non-terran life form to know the essence of me. This is what I came up with:
Movie: The Lion in Winter
The film takes place in the year 1183 AD and tells the story of King Henry II’s three sons all of whom want to inherit the throne, but Henry won’t commit to a choice, so they and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, variously plot to force him.
I’ve chosen this to illustrate the relationship between me and all my families (both birth and extended). It speaks to the complexities of familial love and how I tend to love what I destroy and destroy the things I love.
Book: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A, Heinlein
In not so subtle Christ analogy, the book tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians. It explores his interaction with—and eventual transformation of—terrestrial culture.
This was chosen to illustrate my social anxieties–that wax and wane in an unpredictable manner–and the fact that I never feel I properly fit in with any crowd that isn’t one of my making. There truly exists no place on Earth where I feel at home.
Poem: Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.
Chosen to represent my attempt at zen thoughts. These are the inner things I strive for that always seem to exist just beyond the reach of my higher consciousness fingertips. One day, though. This and the lottery. Hope springs eternal.
Art:The Scream by Edvard Munch
In his diary in an entry headed, Nice 22 January 1892, Munch described his inspiration for the image:
One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.
This piece represents the insanity that lies just beneath my cool surface. The things I see and hear that apparently, no one else acknowledges. But it’s real, dammit. It better be.
Sculpture: The Thinker by Auguste Rodin
The Thinker was originally meant to depict Dante in front of the Gates of Hell, pondering his great poem. This is precisely why I have chosen this, as I am well aware that I am the cause of most of the disasters that have occurred in my life and have often sat and pondered how I let things get to their current state.
Photography: Tank Man by Jeff Widener
The iconic photo of Tank Man, the unknown rebel who stood in front of a column of Chinese tanks in an act of defiance following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. This is an obvious one as it represents my personal autonomy and contemptuous behavior/attitude towards authority figures to the point of appearing as a provocateur or just plain anti-social.
Music: Ágætis byrjun by Sigur Rós
This album is 72 minutes of sonically rich, emotionally pulverizing perfection. From the orchestral splendor of “Starálfur,” to the transcendent ache of “Ný batterí.” each decayed synth tone and cymbal splash conjures a world of endless possibilities. Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson wrote the following mission statement:
“We are not a band, we are music. We are simply gonna change music forever, and the way people think about music. And don’t think we can’t do it, we will.” 14 years after the fact — Spin presented Birgisson with that quote. He responded with laughter, “You’re young and full of energy and have this cockiness,” he said. “I think it’s beautiful.”
This represents my initial mindset when I first began to write again.
Television: The Twilight Zone (1959 series) by Rod Serling and various
This science-fiction/fantasy anthology series consisting of unrelated stories depicting paranormal, futuristic, Kafkaesque, or otherwise disturbing or unusual events (typically featuring some sort of plot twist and moral), represents my imagination as it shaped the way I view fiction.
Play: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Stephen Sondheim
A 1979 musical thriller set in 19th century England tells the story of Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd, who returns to London after 15 years transportation on trumped-up charges. When he finds out that his wife poisoned herself after being raped by the judge who transported him, he vows revenge on the judge and, later, the whole world. He teams up with a piemaker, Mrs. Lovett, and opens a barbershop in which he slits the throats of customers and has them baked into pies.
This speaks to my Scorpio nature of quietly holding a grudge with untold patience until the chance presents itself to sting back. Not so much anymore, though. I’ve mellowed in my old age. Stop looking at me like you don’t believe me.
Performance art: The Invisible Man: Liu Bolin’s camouflage artwork
Liu uses paint to camouflage him to make himself invisible in public. This represents the fact that I was born invisible and the only time I’m ever seen is when I write.
Before you start nitpicking the logic of sending earth-logic/culture-bound works of art to an alien, I refer you to the Moby lyrics quoted at the top of the post and if we are all truly made of stars, there surely must be some commonality that binds us together, yes? Why can’t art be the universe’s language?
I watched the trailer for the documentary “Salinger” on YouTube without meaning to. It was one of those ad-thingies that pop up before the content you actually want to watch. Normally I click SKIP AD, but this time I’m glad I didn’t. The doc professes to be “An unprecedented look inside the private world of J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye.” and while I’m not the hugest fan of documentaries (a good deal of them are padded waaay too much to meet feature length requirements, in my opinion) I’ll probably give this one a go when it hits a theater near me.
But I digress…
The reason I brought this trailer up was because it spoke to me on the power words have to manipulate our emotions, provide the motivation to become better people and do great things, and sadly, sometimes to take us by the hand and lead us down darker paths.
You can never truly predict how someone will interpret your work, as words offer unique triggers in each of your readers’ minds. Ideas, concepts, situations, memories, actions, circumstances, feelings and thoughts vary as they flow from the subconscious mind to the corresponding emotional responses of the subject at hand.
I’d like to take a moment of your precious time and acknowledge the labors of wordsmiths by having them share their opinions on the power written words have over us all:
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
“We live and breathe words. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them. Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt–I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, dreamt. I felt I was dreaming and thinking and feeling with you. I dreamed what you dreamed, wanted what you wanted–and then I realized that truly I just wanted you.” ― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince
“I spent my life folded between the pages of books. In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.” ― Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” ― Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?” ― Emily Dickinson, Selected Letters
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” ― George Orwell, 1984
“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.” ― Alan Wilson Watts
“There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. If you’re lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.” ― Philip K. Dick, VALIS
“Words… They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more… I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.” ― Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing: A Play
“It doesn’t matter if you and everyone else in the room are thinking it. You don’t say the words. Words are weapons. They blast big bloody holes in the world. And words are bricks. Say something out loud and it starts turning solid. Say it loud enough and it becomes a wall you can’t get through.” ― Richard Kadrey, Kill the Dead
“To see evil and call it good, mocks God. Worse, it makes goodness meaningless. A word without meaning is an abomination, for when the word passes beyond understanding the very thing the word stands for passes out of the world and cannot be recalled.” ― Stephen R. Lawhead, Arthur
This is an oldie but a goodie. A blog post I wrote many years ago, about finding the thing that challenges you. You’re probably familiar with the story, Sharks and Fish–it’s been doing online rounds since the days when I relied on AOL, my gas-powered PC, hand-cranked monitor and an ultra-fast 14.4k modem to gain access to the interwebz. For those of you who haven’t tripped over it yet:
Sharks and Fish
The Japanese have always loved fresh fish, but the waters close to Japan haven’t held a great deal of fish for decades. So they built bigger fishing boats and traveled farther out to sea but the farther the fishermen went, the longer it took to bring in the fish. If the return trip took more than a few days, the fish weren’t fresh and people didn’t like the taste.
To solve this problem, fishing companies installed freezers on their boats to allow the vessels to go farther and stay longer. However, people could taste the difference and didn’t care for frozen fish, which brought down the price.
Then the fishing companies installed fish tanks, but once placed in the tanks, after a little thrashing around, the fish stopped moving. They were tired and dull, but alive. Unfortunately, the Japanese public could still taste the difference.
Apparently, because the fish didn’t move for days, they lost their fresh-fish taste. The fishing companies pondered over the dilemma until they stumbled onto the solution:
To keep the fish tasting fresh, the fishing companies still put the fish in the tanks, but now they add a small shark to each tank. Sure, the shark eats a few fish, but most of the fish arrive in a very lively state. The fish are challenged.
My personal belief is that writers should be in a constant state of fear when writing. This, of course, requires your willingness to break free from your comfort zone and push boundaries. I’ve already discussed tackling that seemingly unconquerable writing task, that ambitious bit of scribbling that you either feel you lack the confidence, skill or proper desire to finish, in an earlier post (see: It Ain’t Impossible Once Somebody Gets It Done).
If it isn’t already, writing needs to be your exploration into that frightening undiscovered country. Every new project is an opportunity to attempt narrative feats above your current skill set. To see what lies beyond the unfamiliar horizon. To embrace bizarre new thoughts, take on larger themes and alien points of view. To shake hands with new intimidating characters. To paint the world in unique hues of poetry. Anything less and you do a disservice not only to your work but also to yourself as a writer.
But it isn’t as simple as all that, is it? I mean, we’re not talking about the same brand of fear that adrenaline junkies face when they undertake risky physical activities. A writer’s fear is an abject terror laced with insecurity, inadequacy, doubt, the sinking feeling that we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, and the risk of exposing too much of our core selves.
These are also the things that fuel our excuses.
To be clear, challenging yourself in writing is more than simply writing everyday, especially if you aren’t inspired by what you’re writing, as the end result could wind up being flavorless, tired and dull. Challenging yourself is about punching above your weight class in each write and rewrite, learning to not only chew but swallow that which you’ve bitten off, and in essence growing as you come to the realization that you’ve just written something better than you believed yourself capable of.
What’s your shark? Only you can answer that. The one thing I do know is a writer’s fear is the only cycle of fear that is absotively posolutely worth repeating.
Writing for a living – no matter what you write – is a struggle. Whether you’re a freelance copywriter, a contracted novelist, or a self-publishing author, there’s countless distractions between you and your deadlines and professional goals. In order to stay on track to develop your skills, grow your business, and meet your deadlines, you need to challenge yourself to making the most of your time writing.
Challenge yourself to set a timer
The late copywriting legend Eugene Schwartz worked within the confines of a timer set to 33 minutes and 33 seconds. In that time, he would concentrate fully on his writing, giving himself over to the project at hand with a few exceptions detailed in this great Copyblogger article.
He could drink coffee
He could stare out the window, or at the wall
He could sit and do absolutely nothing for 33.33 minutes
He could write the ad
He could not leave the chair for any reason
He could not do anything else
At the end of time, he’d take a break and let his creative juices recharge. The practice not only gave him structure for producing great content, it pushed him to complete projects faster. As your timer ticks down, you ignite a competitive spirit within yourself to finish what you’re doing before the timer goes off.
This is, of course, not necessarily the most novel idea in writing. Sprints and timers have long been the go-to solution for increased productivity. However, settling into a routine and resolving to work this hard every day is difficult for us – especially in the time of constant connectivity and social media. Which brings me to my next point…
Challenge yourself to a routine that you actually stick to
When your impending deadline is your only structure, you’ll find that your routine often flounders until you find yourself furiously working to hit your word count in the days (or hours) before your project is due. If you’re anything like me, you tell yourself during each of these mad-dash midnight struggles, “It’ll be different next time. I’ll use my time more wisely.” And then I don’t. It’s the weight loss New Year’s Resolution of the writing world… and it’s just as impossible to stick to.
But, if you’re going to thrive as a writer, you need to establish a solid routine for your work week. Sit down with the calendar of your choice and realistically address your schedule and routine. Set office hours and put them in your calendar. Take these hours into consideration when you’re making appointments and planning lunch dates. Then, start each week and each day by taking a look at what your goals and deadlines are and assessing how to make them fit within your established routine.
The first few weeks are hard, but – once you’ve settled in – you’ll find that you’re meeting your deadlines with less stress.
Challenge yourself to take time off
When you’re freelancing, it’s easy to never take a day off. Even on your weekends (even if your “weekend” isn’t Saturday and Sunday), you’ll check email or try to get a little writing in, but you need to stop that. Time off is essential to sustain creative output. Setting aside time for your family, yourself, and your friends is an investment in your career as a writer.
Find activities that replenish you and do them. Whether it’s a bottle of wine and a good book, time at the gym, dinner with your family, or a massage, putting value on self-care means that you’ll be ready for the challenges of being a writer.
The internet is filled with writers who either write for attention, because they’re bored, to fit in, to crack wise, to ruin people’s day, to shamelessly hawk their wares, to make connections, to share experiences, etc. These are generally people who write because they can. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m not addressing those writers today.
I’d like to take a moment to turn the spotlight on the people who write because they have to. People with voices that won’t be silenced. Those invisible few who write to be seen. To whom candid writing is a necessity in order to make their message more relatable, significant, profound, and enduring.
I have a friend, well, that’s a bit of a stretch—that term is so inappropriately applied these days—more like an online acquaintance that I’m on friendly terms with (at present), whom I admire, even though I don’t always agree with their views or the appropriateness and timing in which they’re injected into a conversation.* But I respect the hell out of the person because they aren’t afraid of not being liked.
Different from finding your voice–I’ll address that in a future post–not being afraid to express an honest, unfavorable opinion for fear of losing fans or raising the ire of the audience is not only an admirable trait but also a fundamental step toward becoming a better writer.
It’s essential to develop the ability to say something important without getting hung up on the word important. There are those who put forward the challenge to only write what’s missing in the world. It’s a nice sentiment but the knowledge of what’s missing from the world is already out there and has probably, with all due respect, been written by someone more intelligent and eloquent than yourself. What’s missing from the world is the people’s willingness to put worldwide love, caring, peace and understanding into action, despite your personal views or belief system. There is obviously nothing wrong with writing about this… just as there’s nothing wrong with writing about what feels important to you.
So, what separates the “because I can” and “because I must” writers? The musters have generally identified and clarified their unique worldview. The keyword in the sentence is unique. Every writer has a worldview, even if they aren’t consciously aware of it, often adopted from one particular media source or a friend or relative. That’s a great starting point, but to be an authentic writer you need to know what you believe. What are your values? What do you stand for? How do you interpret life? Be aware that as you grow, your worldview will shift and your writing will become more candid.
Musters also strive to be clear and accurate in their writing as their goal is to reveal the truth. They tend to be selective with words because they appreciate the potential words have to create images that make their audience feel something profound and enduring.
In summary, write candidly, speak your mind. Say something important. If someone isn’t going to like you because of your opinion, let them dislike the real you. Better that than currying favor with folks who only like you for who you pretend to be, in my far-from-humble opinion.
But what do I know? I just write a blog.
Sally forth and be writeful.
*If we have an online relationship and you think this post is about you, you’re not vain at all, in fact, you’re probably right. Doesn’t mean I don’t have mad love for ya, kiddo.