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Preview: A Crack in the Sidewalk

A Crack in the Sidewalk



travel writing, humor, comic essays, experimental writing



Updated: 2015-05-26T02:25:42.464-07:00

 



Bouncy Castle #783

2015-03-04T03:15:19.910-08:00

A short experimental comic rant. Enjoy. Bouncy Castle # 783So Buddhism is sort of like you work your entire life to perfect yourself so that you can be born again through reincarnation into a less shitty life where you still have to carry over all the shit you didn’t resolve the last time. And this keeps happening over and over again. The bad stuff and unlearned lessons accrue like some sort of miserable compound interest. And the end goal is never to be born again- to essentially escape the cycle of rebirth- i.e., not to exist. Not even as a grasshopper or a parakeet. That’s what all the colorful robes and om-ing and not stepping on beetles is really about—being nice so you can get the fuck out of town. Compared to that, a guy nailed to a cross asking you to eat his flesh is downright cheerful: one full lifetime of guilt and self-hatred and you’re done. Worst case, it doesn’t work out and you get binned into hell and you’re totally fucked forever. But at least it’s the kind of fucked where you know where you stand. You’re not going to forget you’re in hell. The flames aren’t going to be licking your face and you’re going to think, ‘gee, maybe I’ve got a shot here.’ There’s no amnesia in hell. Which is the really nightmarish thing about reincarnation- the amnesia of not remembering what your mistakes were, or how to fix them or make them better to maybe like give yourself half a fucking chance. No. You don’t want that. You want a system where, in addition to the challenge of having to perfect yourself over eons of lifetimes of suffering, all for the privilege of simply not being born again, you don’t remember the lessons you got wrong, or even the ones you got right, or what you’re meant to be doing this time around, or even that there are any lessons to be learned period. The big question is: why jump into this sick bouncy castle to begin with? It’s a bouncy castle full of people who are gonna kick you in the nuts over and over. And then you graduate to a different bouncy castle with different people who kick you in the nuts. Maybe one time you get to be in a castle where you kick people in the nuts. But, whoa, hold up a second. If you enjoy yourself too much- if you kick a bit too hard, or smile a bit too much while you’re doing the kicking- that’s a whole bunch of demerits, and you’d better believe you’re going to pay for that shit. Bang. You’re slammed into a new bouncy castle where your nuts are the size of fucking basketballs, and everyone- all the kickers- have steel-toed boots. And look, if you bitch too hard about that, or don't think that’s fair, fuck you. You’re going to get bounced into a brand new hellacious castle where your nuts are on your toes and you have to kick people with them. And go ahead and whine about that and see what happens. So all you can do is hang your head and slouch through the bouncy castle levels, refusing to participate, in the vain hope your non participation is somehow acceptable- and that by not participating you aren’t breaking some cardinal rule that will result in more nut kicking in more bouncy castles. But of course, how would you remember from one incarnation to the next what you’ve learned enough to do that? Suppose you do great in Bouncy castle number 783. You get things just right. You hop a bit in the corner. People like you. You get kicked in the nuts a good few times, but you’re good natured about it. You don’t hassle anyone or hold it against them. Okay, cool. That’s progress. Next time around you’re in a better castle. Only this time some fuck crashes the place and starts jumping around and slams into you. You really go for it and kick the shit out this guy’s nuts. Bang.Welcome back to square one motherfucker. [...]



Neanderthal DNA, Diabetes & the Zombie Apocalypse

2015-03-04T03:36:11.681-08:00

Here's the latest issue of Inner Tapestry Journal, a holistic publication for the web. In it you can see my latest column: Notes from a Journey in Progress: Neanderthal DNA, Diabetes & the Zombie Apocalypse.Scientists have discovered a connection between having Neanderthal genes and being at higher risk for certain diseases. ‘Apparently, [Neanderthals] passed on variants involved in type 2 diabetes, Crohn's disease and - curiously - smoking addiction.’ This, according to a Harvard University study, as reported in BBC News on January 29th 2014. It just so happens that I have a wicked tobacco addiction, have had trouble with Crohn’s-like symptoms since my early 20’s and was diagnosed with Diabetes about six months ago. So, when I saw this news story it piqued my interest.Not least of which, because it may indicate that I’m part Neanderthal. I didn’t end up with the physique of my Neanderthal ancestors. They had robust, barrel chests, large noses and strong, powerful limbs. I’m 5’ 8’’, 165 lbs. with a pug nose. But, I do have large knee caps. So, at least I’ve got that going for me.When I was diagnosed I was not overweight, and was eating healthily. Relatively. But had I known I was part Neanderthal, I might have cut out the cola a lot quicker and would never have taken that first drag of a cig back in college.Genes can tee you up pretty nicely for all sorts of things, good and bad. They can put you at risk for disease or addiction. But they can also give you an edge in being a great athlete, in having the kind of memory that helps you win pub quizzes, or the kind of mind that can do quick mathematical calculations in your head. None of which apply to me, by the way. Except pub quizzes. I’m alright at pub quizzes.But, then it’s how you use your genetic inheritance- how you choose to invest it- that will determine whether it pays dividends or ends up costing you.The world is awash with people who have all sorts of talents they don’t develop and don’t use- or don’t even know they have. The potential that exists in human DNA must be staggering. It may be that in 10,000 years, a descendant of mine will be able to levitate 5 feet off the ground at will- when his peers can only achieve a scant 2 feet- all because of some ‘faulty’ Neanderthal gene that I passed down.If that happens, I hope he remembers to take a quick trip back in his time machine to say thanks. And maybe bring me back a half-decent sugar substitute from the future- which, 10,000 years may be just long enough for them to develop.Since the diabetes diagnoses, which I’ve taken to calling ‘the betes’ (I figure if it can claim my toes someday, I should at least be allowed to give it a nickname) I’ve stopped all the sugary drinks, and stick with water. I don’t eat a bunch or processed stuff, and choose whole grain options wherever possible. Fibre is my friend, and I watch sugar like a super hero with x-ray eyes. (Apparently, Neanderthals had larger eye sockets and more brain development in regions controlling sight, so I’m in luck there.)Gone are the days when they were viewed as carnivorous, gore-covered savages who went around bashing each other’s skulls in for a laugh. Now, with many more discoveries being made about their culture, it appears they were a bit closer to humans than previously thought. They ate their veggies, for a start.Maybe uncomfortably closer to us than we thought. After all, a great many of us have distant kin who found enough in common with them to shack up, at least for a night.They must have had game, in other words. And good for them. With their pronounced brow ridges and strange facial features, they might have had an uphill battle in the courtship department. But, whatever they were doing evidently worked, because up to 20% of the Neanderthal genome survives, in various fragments, within the human genome, according the study cited above.Their genes must have brought something to the party- shinier teeth, stronger toenails, sexier dance moves. It’s hard to sa[...]



Demonology

2014-01-06T10:21:46.390-08:00

I've heard it said that a woman’s brain works to "forget" or to downplay the pain of childbirth so she’ll be willing to have a second child. It’s possible that without this glossing over of the truth, we’d be one step closer to extinction as a species. It must be a pretty powerful amnesia. I think some similar principle is at work when it comes to addiction. The brain forgets how hard it was to quit smoking the last eight times—forgets how charred your lungs felt the last time you smoked for a year—forgets the nasty smell on your clothes—that bronchial cough—the out-of-control feeling—the loss of income, and the constant fear of cancer.  These thoughts are replaced by how positively swell a cigarette would be in the moment. Health, bank balance, and sperm count be damned. It’s usually in one of these moments I bum one, and then I’m back in the little club—a club whose members embrace me a little suspiciously, like a crab who has tried to escape the bucket and has fallen back in. But eventually they grant me absolution. My child, smoking is a terribly hard thing to give up.  They share a story or two about someone else who’d quit and then went to the doctor and was diagnosed with horrible tumors. The implication being that it was the quitting that caused it.  It’s hard not to get a little metaphysical about the whole thing—hard not to think of it in terms of angels and devils—of battles for what is right.  And very often the devil, who represents the quick fix and short-term gains, wins handily.  Is it a damaged superego that bedevils the addict? Or is the angel just not loud enough? Addiction brings angels and devils into constant conflict. And I have to think that if a person can overcome their devil, there would be great wisdom in it. Trouble is, it’s not one battle, but many.  And the more times the devil wins the more he is able to win. His victories are cumulative.  Putting devils aside for a moment. There was a study done years ago where little kids were placed in a room alone with a marshmallow on a table in front of them. They were told that if they didn’t eat it they would be given even more marshmallows when the tester returned. Some kids ate the marshmallow, even though it meant they’d sacrifice the big marshmallow feast at the end of the day. For those kids, the immediate reward was worth more than the promise of a sizable future reward. I’m betting these kids are more likely to become addicts.  Interestingly, the study showed that the kids who were able to resist the single marshmallow went on to score higher in standardized tests.  Say what you will about standardized tests, but this example demonstrates that those kids whose angels spoke ever so slightly louder than their devils, ended up with better results.  It’s no surprise that when I was a kid, I’d have eaten the marshmallow. Actually, I probably would have taken a bite, then tried to shape what was left to look like an intact marshmallow. That’s known as having your angel and your devil, too.  But, as an adult, what is it that leads me to ignore the promise of future "marshmallows" just to have a sneaky bite of one right now? Am I doomed to a lifetime of hardwired behavior?Is it that I don’t trust the promise of future rewards? After all, they’re nebulous. They don’t exist yet. Nobody can guarantee I’ll live until I’m 85 if I quit. Nobody can say I’ll end up in an iron lung by 40 if I don’t. The angel is fighting an asymmetric war.  And the devil will always have the sweeter sales pitch. You like the outdoors, don’t you? Go outside. Light up. Sun on your face. Breeze in your hair. Smile on your face. Away from the grind— a few puffs. You could even have a coffee with it.  In the end, whatever the story—whether it’s faulty [...]



She is the Plump Little Demigod Who Now Rules Our Lives

2013-10-24T11:09:31.115-07:00

My column in Inner Tapestry Journal's October Issue.  I’m nearly 5 months in and my teeth feel like hollow shells from the buckets of hot coffee I’ve splashed over them since I became a dad. My brain balks at normal functions. I’m constantly tired. I’ve begun praying to obscure deities that my little daughter will sleep through the night, and not vomit on my face anymore.And yet, as I get more tired, she becomes cuter and cuter. She has little tickle spots and she smiles a big open-mouthed smile that basically, regardless of how low-energy or miserable I feel, makes me smile reflexively. I work from home, and my wife took off several months of maternity leave, so the three of us have been huddled up in our pad, developing all sorts of routines and rituals. We have a set of commonly understood gibberish, a shared language and customs that set off our little group from the rest of the world. I’m pretty sure some anthropologist in a pith helmet and khaki shorts could come in and study us like an untouched tribe from a far off land. I imagine him creeping through the living room, hiding behind a plant and whispering commentary into a shaky camera. Here we see the male of the tribe speaking to the infant, trying to convince her to eat her ‘tasty-yums’. Watch the way he jiggles her reassuringly. He is unshowered, wearing a kind sleeping garment with the baby’s vomit on his sleeve. We believe the vomit acts as a kind of primitive cologne that binds the group together in this ritual setting. Notice the plates of food set out for the adults of the tribe. The adults do not actually eat this food. Rather, it sits on the table with steam wafting attractively off it to create a realistic dinner scene for the baby. If we look a bit closer now we can see the mother bringing food to the baby’s mouth and spooning it in. *Camera zooms in* The adults look on with their mouths totally open in exaggerated smiles. They do nothing else with their bodies for fear of threatening the stability of the ritual. With the first few successful bites the adults emit alarming ‘oohing’ sounds and smile at the baby. If she smiles back they are clear to continue, to go deeper into the rite.Wait a minute. It appears the father has made a critical error. He has picked up his own fork—yes, it does look like a fork—and is going to try to take a bite of his own food. We don’t see this very often. *Camera focuses tightly on the baby’s face*.  Here it comes. The baby’s bottom lip stiffens. Her eyes close. First a slow gathering of breath, then several short cries. The father sets down his fork slowly, otherwise not moving a muscle.*Rustles the plant excitedly* The mother, thinking quickly, puts her face very close to the baby’s and speaks in a stream of excited gibberish. Her eyes are wide and unblinking. She tilts her head.The baby looks on with delight. The mother ‘airplanes’ the food into the baby’s mouth. It is a successful feeding. The adults’ food is stone cold. The father takes their plates and scrapes them into the trash in the kitchen and grabs a Twix from the cupboard.The thing to remember is that sleep isn’t a major part of the daily routine for now. Functioning on a few hours of slapped together catnaps is the best anyone can hope for. I don’t worry anymore if I start to see little floaters in the corner of my eye, or if I wake up in a flop sweat thinking I’ve left the baby in the high chair, or if I have anxiety dreams about tidal waves smacking into the side of the house and carrying us all out to sea. I’ve got to roll with it. It’s part of the new reality. She is a cuddlesome little critter with awesomely cute chubby cheeks and long eyelashes and classic comedy timing. During a polite conversation with visitors she throws her head back and craps loudly. Twice. She has little toys she likes—a multicolored bug that looks like the Hungry Caterpillar. She likes it so much she chews its face off and we have to[...]



Here at Arthur Murray Dance School, We Lay Waste to Other Dance Schools

2013-08-05T05:22:19.495-07:00



Got a very encouraging personalized rejection from McSweeney's for this. Editor said it made him chuckle. Close but no cigar. ;)

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Here at Arthur Murray Dance School, we don’t just teach you to dance. So don’t come to us if you just want to Tango—if you just want to Cha-cha-cha. Don’t waste our fucking time. Don’t youwaste our fucking time with that shit. You come to us when you’re serious— when you’re ready to have your fucking toes bleed— when you’re ready to do the Lambada ‘til 3am on a Tuesday then get up and do it all over again Wednesday. Becauseat Arthur Murray Dance School, we’re not just going to teach you how to dance. We’re going to teach you how to fucking dance. 507-555-5555. Discounts available for seniors.
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Mad Men & the Roaches

2013-07-12T03:53:45.821-07:00

Just got a personalized rejection from McSweeney's for this little ditty. Anything personalized is always a triumph. The editor said that...' with Madmen's season being over the piece feels a little untimely.' He's got a point. Maybe I should have sat on it and submitted it at the beginning of next season. But, I'm not that patient. Better a personalized rejection now than the nebulous promise of publication 10 months down the line.So here it is......._________________________________________________________________________________ Mad Men is a great show. Wow. What a show it is, too. I mean, holy shit, is there a better show anywhere that anyone can think of? Yeah, no, I really don’t think so. So, there it is. That’s decided. Great. The only thing is the show will be over next season. No more Mad Men. That’ll be all she wrote. Then it’s on to classic status and reruns, probably. And it’ll be odd, too, because it’s about the 1960s, but made in the 2010s, so it’ll be doubly nostalgic for people to look back upon. People someday in the future will be immersed in a TV series that is both about the 1960s and the first decade of the 21st century. What an interesting time capsule that will be— provided the cockroaches haven’t taken over. But, who knows, they might like Mad Men, too. Sitting in front of their TVs they may kick back with a scotch and a cig and think about how Don Draper gets all the women. And sure, the women would be ugly to the cockroaches, but they’d still have to appreciate the moxie and animal magnetism of a Don Draper. I’m not sure if cockroaches would understand Draper’s creative process— or if they’d be able to conceive of a complex commercial enterprise like advertising— or if they’d know anything at all about selling. It’s possible those are only human pursuits. Then again, if they’re watching TV, it would suggest a civilization quite similar to our own. Presumably then, there would be cockroach networks with cockroach executives making programming decisions. Even if they didn’t create any original shows, and just say, did what Nick at Nite does, they would still need to decide what to run, and in which time slots. And somebody would have to pay them for it. They’d need to be kept in nice apartments in the city, certainly better ones than those roaches for whom they’d be making the programming decisions. And as cockroaches eat just about anything: trash, animal feces, rusted nickels, the executives would likely come to view them with contempt, even though they, being cockroaches themselves, would eat many of the same things—just better versions. There’d obviously need to be some sort of reward scheme so that those who’d climbed the greasy pole would get a little extra. That’s just the way the world works, regardless of how many appendages the species that runs it has. But whatever happens, the roaches will look into the dark black sheen of Don’s hair and see in it a reflection of their own alienation— and their own shiny exoskeletons. And maybe that’s all that matters. [...]



On William Blake, Eternity & Becoming a Dad

2013-06-18T14:23:07.536-07:00

I was wrong. It was a baby girl inside my wife all those months, and when she came out and the midwife showed me I was in disbelief, but very happy. I’d wanted a little girl, and even though I would have bet good money on it being a boy, I’d have been happy to lose every penny. She’s perfect. A head of dark, nearly jet black hair, and soft plump cheeks and a pretty cry. She’s instantly my new favorite person, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. One day she wasn’t there, and the next she was. Magical is the only word to describe it. Soon, she’ll go to school and meet people and make friends. She’ll like certain music and food. She may have a fondness for opera or heavy metal, for vanilla ice cream, or animals. Watching these preferences reveal themselves over time, like little buried treasures sticking up out of the sand, will be a great joy to me.I was standing out back of my rented house the night we brought her home; my baby daughter was upstairs with her mother feeding and being jiggled and cooed at to get her to sleep. I was smoking a cigarette and thinking that this little girl I’d helped create could, quite possibly, see the next century. Then I thought how I would not see it with her. Barring some Star Trek life extension program being made available to the masses, I will likely snuff it by around 2060. Suddenly, this didn’t feel like enough time. It would have felt like an eon before tonight, but in this moment, lit cigarette in hand, I thought about how I would eventually die and leave this girl fatherless in the world. The thought wasn’t sad, or maudlin, or romantic even. I wasn’t feeling weepy or philosophical. It was just a flash that went through my mind, and I held myself still for a moment.And I felt a sense of loss. I will not likely see her turn 65 and collect her pension and have a head of grey hair and grandchildren of her own. Those parts of her life will be witnessed by others—others who are not yet born, and who may never be known to me. Though I am a key figure in her life now, someday I will be less so. And someday after that, if even long after that, I will cease to be in her life, or anyone else’s. I will not bare witness to her life in its entirety. It was in that moment that I became aware that this little girl is not mine. I only have her for a brief time, and will need to make it count. There are things I will need to teach her, and things I will need to teach myself in order to be better for her. She will be out in the world shortly—will take stock of it, make her own choices and become the person she is to become. It is my job to create the right conditions for her to flourish. But, she doesn’t belong to me. She is only temporarily entrusted to me. Lest people believe my becoming a dad has made me a communist, let me be clear. I still dig free markets and pizza delivery on demand. So, I won’t be waging any revolutions just yet. But, I do have a different outlook now. I now know that nothing is really mine. Ownership is an illusion. Mortal beings can’t own anything. We don’t really need to. We don’t need ownership over each other, or to live forever, or to see it all, because what we have is so powerful. The years we do have with one another, and the grey hairs we do see on our someday middle aged daughter’s head, to us, will be worth the power of a thousand suns. There is a reason William Blake wrote that ‘eternity is in love with the productions of time.’ We are rare and valuable. Our lives, however short they may be, are rich with possibility and consequence. This is our inheritance as mortals.The gods may be the gods, and they may be privy to see it all, but we are privileged to have what little we do see mean so much. So, let them keep their view from Mount Olympus, and let me kiss my little girl on the cheek and smile at her in her crib on her first night home.And [...]



On Baby Cappuccino & Becoming a Dad

2013-03-07T10:46:18.005-08:00

We had just gotten back from another prenatal class where we learned about all the things we’ll need to have ready when the baby arrives. And it finally hit me. We could easily sink 10 grand into all of the cots, nests, baskets, blankets, car seats, clothes and electronic gadgets and gizmos. There are items to swaddle, harness and cradle the baby in virtually any condition from naptime to nuclear winter. There are trendy brands, mid range brands and inexpensive ones. All of my training as a human being is being put to the test. Making quick judgments. Assessing the quality and reliability of things. But these aren’t decisions I’m making for myself. I’m making them on behalf of a brand new person. With myself, I can get away with being cheap. But being cheap with a little human, who, through no fault of his own, will soon be evicted from his mother’s uterus, seems a bit unkind.  Plus, I have a vision of being in a parking lot loading the baby into the back seat as a pack of Armani-clad babies in pinstipe buggies roll up slowly. They pull down their Gucci shades to look at us smugly. In this pack of babies there is a leader with slicked back hair and a suntan. He lifts his chin and presses a button that produces a baby-sized cappuccino from a side compartment. He takes a sip, his pinky sticking aristocratically out the side. He yawns and a tinted glass canopy comes down and clicks into place, obscuring him from view. It is then that I feel a flash of shame at having purchased the mid-grade car seat online at the discounted rate. These days, my wife and I wander through aisles of baby clothes looking at sizes that say things like 0-8 weeks. I like this. I think I should be able to walk into a clothes shop and say ’34 years’, and the employee should be able to take me directly to the baggy-fit jeans section. Or at a restaurant,  ‘Oh, we’re 30-34,’ and the waitress should give us menus with lots of grilled chicken options, fiber-rich vegetables and Amstel Light. In the baby shop the materials are soft. There are pinks, and blues and gender- neutral greens. In other sections, there are breast pumps and cots and cribs and wall bouncers, and rattles.We look at slings. There’s a popular Scandinavian brand. I think, ‘I bet this is good.’ Ever since they gave up pillaging and conquest Scandinavians seem to have carved out a nice little niche for themselves in home furnishing and sports wear. Except, at a later class, I overhear the midwife telling another couple, ‘It’s literally the worst product available.’ She holds both hands in the air, ‘Buy any sling but that one.’ We attended another class on labour and the delivery process. There’s quite a bit of choice. You can have a water birth, an at-home birth, a birth with midwives— or one with doctors. You can have medicine for pain: morphine, epidurals and oxygen. Or you can do it without pain relief. Midwives run the classes, so there’s an emphasis on natural childbirth. And in their serene presence, everyone agrees this is the way to go. But, I suspect quite a few mothers, will, when things get dicey, opt for epidurals over aromatherapy. Immediately after the delivery, skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby is encouraged. And gone are the days when babies would be whisked off to a maternity ward to sleep alongside other babies. Now, they sleep in the same room with their mothers so they can bond from the start. At another class, the midwife, a woman in her late fifties, very slim and in shape, performed a series of woman-in-stages-of-labour vignettes. She decided to do this next to me, draped over an exercise ball, gripping the armrest of my chair. She moaned and breathed heavily for a full minute. She threw her head back and groaned. The rest of the room fell silent. It was like the scene from When Harry Met Sally, except instead[...]



On Jumbo Shrimp & Becoming a Dad

2012-11-06T11:36:33.319-08:00

We just got back from the 13-week scan. On the monitor the baby was flipping and spinning and doing acrobatic things I was surprised by. My wife routinely trips walking down pretty straightforward sidewalks, and I have about as much grace as a bull. So I hadn’t been ready for the stealthy movements my tiny offspring would be capable of. Even playing tennis, which is supposed to be a gentleman’s sport, I stomp and slam around the court in a kind of flat-footed, tongue-lolling rage, desperate to win the point by any means necessary. It’s hardly unbridled masculine power that makes me unwieldy, either. It’s more a matter of sheer, blind passion struggling to maximize every ounce of meager talent.  It’s possible for me to play and win at sports, in the same way it’s possible for a golf cart to hit 50 miles per hour. It can happen, but it’s not pretty. So, the thought my little one may someday be able to perform a smooth, one-handed backhand cross-court winner inspires me to awe and terror even now.The little one is the size of a jumbo shrimp at this stage, which is a handy reference point, but does nothing for my desire to eat shrimp cocktail ever again. In fact, various foods have been linked forever in my brain with the size of the little critter in my wife’s belly— so much so, that whenever I lift a spoon to my mouth or reach for a piece of fruit now, I pause for a moment, gripped by an irrational sort of guilt.It was incredible being in the darkened room with the ultrasound nurse watching the sharp, detailed images of a tiny little fetus bobbing and weaving, turning and twisting. He or she (in Scotland they don’t tell you the gender of the baby) is pretty active. The ultrasound nurse giggled discreetly and snapped a picture of the little one’s hands pumping up toward its face in a defensive boxing gesture. And that’s all it took. Suddenly, the little one was transformed in my mind into a miniature boxer.In my vision, I am a grizzled corner man barking direction at my little jumbo shrimp. He struggles to get up off the canvas after an uppercut has laid him out. “I didn’t hear no bell!’ I shout through the right side of my mouth. He gets up in a haze, and shakes it off. The crowd begins to cheer, and the referee gives him a standing eight count. He does some fancy footwork and then he’s right back in it. ‘Stick and move. Stick and move,’ I shout. He blocks a left jab and lands a series of rapid-fire body blows on his opponent, a slightly larger jumbo shrimp. The barrage culminates as he connects with a right hook square in his opponent’s jaw. It knocks out his mouthpiece; he spins and falls sideways, unconscious.The referee calls the fight. Flashbulbs go off in slow motion. I rush into the ring and drape a tiny towel over my jumbo shrimp’s shoulders and raise him up in the palm of my hand to thunderous cheers and applause. The ultrasound nurse tears off a series of 4 pictures and hands them to me.Our baby is due April 26th, which I announce to my wife was the date of the Chernobyl disaster. She tells me it was also her grandmother’s birthday. We decide that’s a better portent for the birth of our first child.  This leads to an awkward chat about names. Katherine. We both like that name. I like Elizabeth and Victoria. My wife most definitely does not. Neither of us is sure about boys’ names yet. We have different tastes. I’m American. She’s Irish. I like the name William. She doesn’t. We have different temperaments and personalities, too. We were each shaped by where we grew up, and by the people in our lives. But, I don’t believe for a minute we were blank slates coming in. I don’t believe anyone is.We had some essential personalities to begin with. And the same will be true of our little one. After all, as a baby, my wife slept peaceful[...]



Doogie Howser, Dust Bunnies & the Common Genius of Vinnie Delpino

2012-09-14T04:35:21.880-07:00

(Will Appear in Inner Tapestry Journal in the October/November Issue)Do you remember Doogie Howser, MD—that TV show from the early 1990’s about the child prodigy doctor and his friend Vinnie, the plucky comic relief counterpoint to Doogie’s big-eared precociousness? Yeah, me too.Lots of people watched it and admired Doogie, which was sort of the point of the show. And Doogie was cool— don’t get me wrong. He had a stethoscope, and could perform surgeries. He could speak intelligently to adults and treat leukemia all before he could legally drive a car. He was impressive. And when it came time to take the SAT I’m sure I even envied him more than a little bit. But his buddy, a character named Vinnie, was always slightly more interesting as far as I was concerned. He was the character I wanted to be like. He was the one with the social skills. He had all the angles and ideas. He was the guy who would draw up the big plans and dream up the schemes. And he didn’t have ‘genius’ to rely on, either. At least, not, per se. He wasn’t able to solve a Rubik’s cube in 11 seconds flat, or name all the bones in the human body. He didn’t know which species of tree frog was most plentiful in the Amazon Basin. He was just an awkward kid trying to make it work in a world full of sudden onset acne, lousy part-time jobs and girls who wouldn’t look at him yet because he was still a 5’ 3” freshman with a squeaking voice. In other words, he was saddled with the full weight of teenage wretchedness—all this while the ‘Doogster’ got to whistle and skip right past it all and learn about liver enzymes instead. Vinnie, like most of us, didn’t get to skip out on anything. When he burnt all of the burgers at his paper-hat-wearing burger-slinger nightmare after-school job, he’d have to slog through it without the promise of high achievement, or the prospect of a medical miracle to inspire him. After a failure, he’d shrug it off and bob his head forward— a bit like an early 90’s version of the Fonz. He’d shoot his cuffs, and then he was back in action—with a new plan, a new idea, and fresh enthusiasm. Each week you could rely upon Vinnie’s indomitable spirit, every much as you could rely upon Doogie’s ability to rush in at the last minute and solve a medical mystery and save a patient’s life.So why didn’t Vinnie have a show? Why was the focus on Doogie, while his old pal Vincent was considered the sidekick? After all, if Doogie wouldn’t have had his pal Vinnie, he might have been just a socially isolated misfit with a huge brain and an oversized lab coat. He would have been blessed with lightning fast processing speed and a universe full of facts and nobody in it. And the show would have been as dull as dirt.  Doogie probably would have wound up at age 26, burnt out, sitting at his desk in the hospital, sneaking scotch out of a hip flask. Fast forward another ten years, and he would have been sitting alone in the dark on the wood floor of his empty apartment rocking back and forth, twitching and whispering secrets to the dust bunnies.Though the show probably would have been cancelled long before any of that happened.I suppose it was Doogie’s show because he was the one with uncommon genius—officially tested and verified. And he had the prescription pad to prove it. Vinnie didn’t have that kind of genius. Nor do most of us.Vinnie had common genius—the genius that ordinary people can access—something more akin to creativity or cleverness—the source of which is a little harder to pin down than IQ. You can’t point to a test score to explain how Vinnie got things done. You’d almost have to say he relied on spirit or inspiration as much as intellect.The world needs more dreamers and schemers—more Vinnie’s—more motivated people w[...]



Podcast: Eden & the Apple: the bite heard 'round the world

2012-08-21T10:46:35.379-07:00

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Podcast: So I Went with the Flow and It Took Me to Tunisia

2012-08-21T10:47:57.675-07:00

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Being in the Game III: My Second Personalized Rejection

2012-06-20T04:46:07.454-07:00



I submitted a piece I wrote to McSweeney's Internet Tendency. To my way of thinking they're the top spot for comic and satiric writing--a kind of Holy Grail for humorous scribblers.

So, I hadn't expected to get a response, and if I did, I had fully expected it to be some variation on:

'Dear, Jerk, we will not be taking your writing. But please do attempt to read into this fact some meager and unintended encouragement. Signed (virtual rubber stamp)

Well, they didn't take the piece, but, I got a brief, personal note back from the Editor. A real, living, presumably, breathing editor.

Here it is:

Hi, Curtis -

This made me chuckle, but it’s just a little too on the slight side for our use. Thanks for thinking of us, nonetheless.

Best,
Chris


Christopher Monks
Website Editor


This is fair enough. The piece is literally only a paragraph long. 

They sometimes publish really short things, but maybe not this short. 

So this felt a bit like a triumph, as lame as that may sound. 


The good news is the editor thought the thing was pretty good, and he thought enough of it to respond personally and with some encouraging words. 


It's not as good as a publication, but what the hell. It feels pretty good. 

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Ladies and Gentlemen....the greatest tune I've ever heard

2012-06-19T13:47:17.012-07:00

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Eden & the Apple: the bite heard 'round the world

2012-06-19T08:49:33.717-07:00

Why is it that whenever I’ve just taken a bite of an apple I have a sudden urge to projectile sneeze? If most sneezes are about a factor three or four, these apple sneezes are in several classes of sneeze more powerful than that—a factor seven, at a minimum. It may be that I’m allergic to apples. They are, after all, healthy, and it hasn’t been too long since I’ve been swallowing cheeseburgers and French fries on a regular basis. So part of me thinks my system, in a kind of perverse sense of what is good for it, is rejecting the healthy fruit, mistakenly thinking it to be poison.  Or maybe it’s genetic memory— some cellular reminder that Adam once ate an apple and things went rapidly downhill from that point. After all, it must have been pretty swell in the Garden of Eden. Lots of nice, green, dry, warm land. Lots of al frescodining and hanging out naked. You didn’t even need clothing then. You didn’t need to worry about where the next meal was coming from, either. That was being provided, gratis, by the almighty. If Adam or Eve looked up and thought what am I going to eat for lunch today, God would lean down and hand them a nice sandwich. Or, even if he were busy, he’d have an angel set up a nice grill for them with a whole heap of skewers and lamb burgers laid out just waiting to be cooked to perfection. Yep. It must have been nice for a while. Just imagine life in the garden. There wouldn’t have been any need for anything. So there wouldn’t have been any work, or any money, or any suffering or death. There wouldn’t have been much of anything at all, come to think of it. It would have been a chilled out paradise where time effectively didn’t exist. Urges, I suppose, would have existed—the basic ones. But the beauty of Eden was that they were all instantly met. No resistance. No fuss. No need or place for fear or violence or doubt because it was all covered. It was the cool place to be, a heavenly outpost on earth— an endless VIP room, separated from the wasteland by a long red rope. God was like an all-powerful casino manager who could walk in and comp people unlimited chips for all eternity. And if we had stayed there it would have been very boring. There would have been no conflict, no pressure, no loss, and no growth. Existence would have been static— just a long drawn out smile, a perpetual lukewarm bath. The process of being born is analogous to the expulsion from Eden. In many ways the story of the fall is the story of a person entering the world from the stasis and comfort of the womb, where all needs are met and where nothing appears separate or unattainable. But of course, ultimately, there is a need to be born, to leave Eden and eat apples and sneeze and make a mess and screw things up and even eventually to die. And thank God for that. Life would be intolerably boring in a perpetual state of blissed out serenity. No God worth his salt would have left his creations in such a miserable condition— just sitting around for eternity doing nothing and going nowhere. It should be considered an act of love, or at least, an act of letting go, that the figure of the Old Testament God had let his creations fall and move forward into the wasteland realms—which, he just happened to have waiting for them. Just in case. Wink, wink. From that point comes civilization, and art and science and all of human history. There’s no way the Greeks could have invented democracy, much less the gyro sandwich, if Eden hadn’t closed up shop and forced humankind to slouch forward toward its destiny. Because of the fall we were allowed to enter into a realm of time and space and true consequence. That’s the pro[...]



So I Went With the Flow, and It Took Me to Tunisia

2012-06-19T12:20:51.403-07:00

On our Second full day in Tunisia we went to the city of Sousse to see the 8th century medina, (the indoor marketplace) where Tunisians haggle for everything from fish to spices to housewares. It is a busy and colorful place where merchants sell everything from live snails to pots and earthenware, silks, candies, and dried scorpions of various sizes encased in glass boxes. I will admit to picking one up and thinking it was pretty cool. Then I remembered that I’m not eleven, and what would I do with a dried insect in a box. I had to keep reminding myself, too, because several shops were selling them. Instead, my wife and I bought 10 grams of fresh saffron, some harissa and something called 7 spice. This was a much more mature if slightly less satisfying purchase. But the promise of tastier chicken dinners down the line kept me on board.We went into several other shops. We heard things like, “Two dinar. I like you. Two dinar only. Look only. Is okay. Yes, please.” Even after you’d left it was not uncommon for shopkeepers to walk after you trying to get you back, saying, ‘Yes please.’‘Yes, please,’ was a familiar phrase. When a waiter said it as you sat down, it meant, ‘What would you like to drink?’ Or, if he said it at the end of dinner, it meant, ‘Thank you.’When shopkeepers tried to flag you into their shops by saying it, it meant, ‘Take a look.’When a Taxi driver shouted it at you from across the street, when you clearly weren’t looking for a taxi, it meant, ‘Do you need a cab?’On the beach, a guy chased after us shouting, ‘Yes, please’ and wouldn’t leave until we took a picture of his pet chameleon on my shoulder and bought a bag of almonds.So, the phrase can mean quite a few things depending on the context.And by the way, salespeople ought to be sent here to learn how it’s really done. There were some pretty clever pitches. “You remember me. I work at your hotel. I served you breakfast. Come. Look in my brother’s shop. You like leather jackets? Feel this quality….”Everything was designed to get you to interact with the merchandise, like getting the fish to take just a small nibble of the bait. And if you kept walking, you’d hear ‘No buy. Just look! Yes, please!’ My favorite was a kid who came up to us and said, “Excuse me, you speak English?” We both nodded. “How much does a ‘kartett’ cost in your country? I need to know if my price is too high. For my shop.” “What’s a ‘kartett?’” I asked. “Right over here,” he started walking toward his shop still looking at us. “You come and look.”  My wife and I leaned back and shook our heads. “I don’t think so,” we said, and laughed. But we had to respect the hustle. And hustle they did. In Tunisia they haggle for most things. Some places are fixed price, like the restaurant in the hotel, so you can buy an orange juice or a coffee in the morning without having to argue. But for most goods and services you have to haggle. There was a cabstand down the street from us. There were maybe 15 or so taxis lined up at any given time on either side of the street. And get this— they were trying to flag down customers. We got in one to go to a fixed price shop about ten minutes from the hotel. “How much to go to Miami?” I said. (That was the name of the shop.) “5 Dinar,” he said, “for both of you.”  Offering to take both of us was a nice touch. “How ‘bout 3,” I said, smiling. “Okay, I take you,” he said, looking straight ahead. Later that night we met a Libyan diplomat in the hotel bar who clutched my hand, a cigarette dangling off his lower lip. He squi[...]



What if Jesus Would Have Had an Agent?

2012-06-19T07:59:09.704-07:00

We’re all vaguely familiar with the scene: a ‘spiritual’ teacher wearing a black turtleneck, and a discreet lapel mic walks onto a well-lit stage in an auditorium full of pre-converted fans who’ve already purchased his 7th book, titled something like, ‘What if God were a Blade of Grass?”He eases into an unchallenging, paternal tone that will carry him from his opening remarks all the way to the book signing at the end of the hour and half presentation. After the signing, in a private breakout room, some who have paid a little extra will be able to have a boxed lunch of tuna and radish sandwiches and speak with him one on one. He is handsome, and so is his bank balance. He has a two million dollar home, a pair of lexuses, an agent, a PR rep, a manager, and a housekeeper. He spends $153.00 plus tip on a weekly haircut. He is as familiar with bond markets as he is with his own particular brand of ‘spiritual’ teaching.When I reflect on some of these latter-day ‘spiritual luminaries,’ I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Jesus had had an agent. I can just imagine their first conversation. Agent: “Come right in, Jesus. Take a seat. You want a leather sack of water? No. Okay, then let's jump right in.”Jesus: “I am here to show my people the way to my father’s kingdom.”Agent: “Right. Right, Jesus. Listen, we’ve really got to get you into the barber’s chair. Our research shows you’re not doing well with the under 25s. Although our research does suggest women aged 17-39 appreciate your abs. You’re doing some things right, and some things wrong. What we need to do is broaden your appeal.”Jesus: “My message is for all of my father’s people.”Agent: “Right. Sure, but let’s not get too carried away here. Certain demographics are more important than others. They have what we call ‘disposable income’. Think about that the next time you’re flipping over tables. Nobody ever did well in this city by pissing off the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Jesus: “They are unclean. They profit from the buying and selling of animals for blood sacrifice in my father’s house.”Agent: “Well, yes. But they’ve got to make a living. Besides, they’re where it’s at Jesus. They get to be religious, and also rich. It’s the best of both worlds. That’s something for you to think about.”Jesus: “It is harder for a rich man to pass through the gates of heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” Agent: “Look, I told you we don’t have to worry about that. We’ll set up a holding company in Damascus to shield all your assets. Nobody will have to know you’re rich—you’ll pay no taxes. As far as Caesar will be concerned, you own two robes, a pair of sandals and haven’t earned income for the last 20 years. No problem.” Jesus: “I am the Son of God; I do not care about the wealth of this world.”Agent: “Exactly! We’ve got to get you looking like the Son of God. What Prince you’ve ever heard of goes around living in squalor, with a band of misfits dragging around after him.  We have got to get rid of these guys. Keep one or two as an entourage—Peter, maybe Judas can stay—but get them into some clean clothes. But, Magdalene? Forget about it. Your contact with her jeopardizes the brand.” Jesus: ‘The brand?” Agent: “Yes. Your brand is your most valuable asset, Jesus. It’s what makes or breaks you. People will pay good money to see you if you have a high-value brand. It’s all about perception. People have got to see you like the Son of God, and then they pay you like you’re the Son[...]



Scottish Wisdom: 'Whit's Fur Ye'll No Go By Ye!'

2012-06-19T08:03:51.380-07:00

The following is a column that will appear in a slightly different format in Inner Tapestry Journal's October/November Issue...I landed in Edinburgh airport about a week ago and from there got a train north to Aberdeen. It would be a two and a half hour journey to my new apartment. I had been on trains before which were rattling, drafty tin cans which lurched and screeched around corners and felt more like wooden roller coasters or school buses on makeshift tracks than actual trains. This was not one of them. This was modern, spacious and comfortable. It was bright and clean. If those trains were shaggy 19 year old students living in cold water apartments with pizza boxes for pillows, then this train was a gray haired executive vice president of marketing for a fortune 500 company. I had fully expected another big schlep—another leg of a long trip where I would need to drag around my, by now seemingly enormous suitcases and hand luggage—the things my wife and I had taken with us on the move from America to Scotland. In preparation for the move we’d sold, given away or tossed out most of our things—which actually felt kind of good. We’d looked at it as a chance to start fresh. What little we’d kept had been packed, in some instances be-jammed into these large cases.But suddenly it seemed like a lot of stuff. On the flight from Belfast, Northern Ireland earlier that morning I wondered seriously what would happen if I ducked into the lavatory, not to sneak a cigarette, but to smash and flush the set of three 8x10 heavy ceramic picture frames I’d been dragging around in my hand luggage. Ultimately I decided against it.  The thought of riding in yet another car to prison was too much to handle.I found myself, for the first time in my life, wondering what the total weight of all of my underwear might be. I started considering things like, ‘if we had to lose just one bag, which would it be?’ Although, it wasn’t exactly Sophie’s Choice, given that at this point I just wanted to ditch all the bags and arrive with nothing more than the t-shirt and pair of jeans I was wearing.  I was looking forward to being done with travel. I had expected this train ride would be the last hurdle—the final trial to endure en route to a new home and a new beginning. And it started out this way, but only for a moment.One aisle of the train’s cabin faced forward, the other backward. My aisle faced backward, so as we raced away from the station I had a moment of disorientation and queasiness, but quickly felt fine. The train brought us through hills that had been cut in half for the tracks to run through. Passing through these narrow open air tunnels I got a sense of how fast we were going by seeing the stone walls flit past— no more than a couple of feet from my face— though, I couldn’t feel the speed. The ride was smooth. When we emerged out from these tunnels onto lower land I could see a vast patchwork of green and golden fields miles and miles of them sloping up and away from us in all directions. Many were fenced off with tidy stone walls no more than two or three feet high. There were clusters of sheep scattered across the green fields like little details in the background of a painting. A bright blue sky capped off the scene.There were stands of enormous fluffy white clouds, the kind that would suggest a beautiful day in late October in parts of New England. Except this was not New England and it was not late October. It was closer to Old England, and it was almost exactly the middle of September.About every 20 minutes another perfectly manicu[...]



Fatty Livers, Furniture Moving & The Road Ahead

2012-06-19T08:28:06.227-07:00

The following is a new column that will appear in Inner Tapestry's August/September issue. The theme of the issue is, "Are We There Yet?" The name of my column is "Reflections of an Amateur Spiritual Spelunker."...This will make more sense at the end......Until recently, I’d been hamstrung by a leaden, pointless philosophy—a philosophy designed with one goal in mind: avoiding the discomfort of taking responsibility and making real choices.   But this has been changing. I’ve made movement in a positive direction. I’ve been eating well and have quit smoking. I’ve been playing tennis and writing. I’ve left the 40 hour workweek, and I’ve even started writing a book—a work of fiction—with an actual plot, and a sketched out plan for how I’ll tell the story.But, in the spirit of Are We There Yet, I’d like to adjust my own rearview mirror and glance back at the road just traveled for a moment—not to dwell, but to reflect and gain perspective on the road ahead.Mirror adjusted. Here we go. In the past, when I would sit down to write a piece of fiction, which was rare, I would freeze when it came time to think about plot—about what would actually happen in the story. What will I have my characters do? I’d say to myself. I’d say, well, listen, man, it has to be character-driven. I don’t, like, just want to write some boring plot and have all the characters go from planned-point-A to planned-point-B…. and then have this, like, fake resolution where everything neatly ties in a bow… because that’ll be math, man…. And I don’t do math.This little inner monologue would often be followed by a cigarette, like a punctuation mark at the end of the sentence. I would sit at the desk—without any sense of where the story would go—armed only with the vague but unwavering principle that in order for the work to be good—in order for it to be pure— I’d have to abandon plot entirely. It has to be this way, I’d say to myself. You can’t sketch out a plot. You can’t plan to take the characters places. That’s not how inspiration works. The result of this thinking: one bloated overwritten short story after another where characters talked the whole time, and never left the living room. There was some action: in the form of furniture moving, smoking, and drinking. There were deep conversations about broken childhoods. There were hurt feelings. There was storming in and out and slamming doors. But there wasn’t movement, or resolution—because I hadn’t allowed enough to happen to the characters. They, like me, hadn’t experienced enough to change.One particular story went on like this for a full 65 single spaced pages. I thought, well, this is great. I’ve got half a novel almost! I’ll just beef it up and be on my way!Then I set about embellishing every interaction in the story—layering over every paragraph with needless detail— elaborate descriptions of lampshades, and beer bottles. I tortured this small-framed story—this small container— good for about a 20 page piece— into a strained, buckling mess of detail.It got larger and larger, but it didn’t grow. It only swelled. My life, until recently, had followed a similar course—refusal to sketch out plans—refusal to take responsibility for my goals—refusal to allow myself to take control and make choices. So, I ate. I chain smoked. I ate some more. I drank heavily and I didn’t write. I didn’t hike or play tennis or swim or any of the other things that would have made me feel good. There was no action, no movement. I sat in the sa[...]



And So It Continues: submissions, rejections & being in the game (II)

2012-06-19T08:21:17.170-07:00



I got my first personalized rejection letter from a literary journal today.

It felt pretty good.

The handful of other rejections I’ve gotten have all been form letters. Here’s an example of a form rejection letter:  Dear (fill in the blank): Thank you for being a jerk who submitted your work to us and for allowing us to reject it. Best of luck schlepping it around to other, far less selective publications. Sincerely, Some Nameless Intern.

But in this case, I got feedback with the rejection. It was personalized. The editor said he really liked the premise of the piece, and thought the voice was interesting— but that he felt the story read a little choppy, and was a little too tame for their publication.

Fair enough. I happen to disagree that the work is tame. But, that’s subjective. It may be too tame for his publication. But it’s honest feedback—and pretty complimentary overall.

What’s nicer than hearing an editor “really liked the premise of your work” and “thought the voice was interesting”?

Publication would be nicer. That goes without saying.

But this feedback is water in the desert—much appreciated and very timely.

Now I have an editor’s sense of what’s good about the piece—what works. And, I know where it needs work, too.

I’ve got a better shot at getting the piece published now— a better shot at refining it, making it stronger, and sharpening my skills generally.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s a little odd to feel grateful for getting rejected. But, as a wise man once said, “fuck it.” I do feel grateful, so that’s how it is.

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And So it Begins: submissions, rejections & being in the game

2012-06-19T08:19:32.234-07:00

Well, I've started working on a few new writing projects. One is a novel that I'm excited about. I've sketched out a very rough outline of the major plot points and where I think I'd like to take it. It feels really good to be starting a large and ambitious project.I've also gone back into the vault of some old stories I've written to see if there's anything I can salvage, polish up a little and submit to some journals. I found three things I still like. Most of the rest of it I look at and wonder what the hell I was thinking. But hey, like I said, I did find three pieces that I think deserve a shot at publication.So, I took the first one--an experimental piece. A friend of mine and fellow writer asked me to describe the piece and I told him it was basically like getting slapped in the face for 5 pages."Sounds great," he said sarcastically.  Needless to say, some people won't like it. It doesn't have a traditional narrative form. The characters aren't named. It takes effort to read, and makes fun of neurotic hyper-analytical people much like myself.I brought this same story to a writing workshop back in college and 2 people loved it. The other 11 hated it, and me a little for making them read it.At the time I was a little worried about the negatives: those people who hated it. Now, I realize that not every piece of writing is for everyone. God knows there's lots of so-called classic or great works that I can't read because they bore me, don't interest me, or I just don't like them.If Pulitzer winners can handle brutal and withering criticism from people reading their work, then I should be able to, as well. Now, I have a much healthier attitude about the rejections. I still have faith in the work I've done, and I don't take it personally when I open another email from a lit journal and it tells me, very politely, to go fuck myself. I've submitted the one piece in question to about 8 places. So far, all of the ones who get back to people quickly have done so: in the form of telling me to go, very politely and delicately, fuck myself.I can't say I'm super happy about nobody taking the piece for publication, but the truth is, I still have full faith in it. It's not great. But it is s solid piece. What I am happy with is that I'm in the game, doing the work, and chasing my goals in a healthy level-headed way.Today, I'm at work getting feedback from a writing buddy on the second of the three pieces I wrote way back when. I'll consider what he has to say, do a deep edit, do another final edit, then send it off to see if it can be published someplace.It will feel really good to have two pieces out there in the ether(net) being considered.And in the meantime, I've got work to do: I've got the book to start writing, and a new Column in Inner Tapestry Journal. It's a holistic journal that distributes throughout New England--mostly in ME and CT and MA. My column is called, "Reflections of an Amateur Spiritual Spelunker." They publish 6 times per year. You can find them at innertapestry.org[...]



Cloned Sneakers, Mount Doom & the Tyranny of Sameness

2012-06-19T08:16:15.656-07:00

Writing, for me, has a lot in common with a destination-less trip where I get in the car, turn the key and take off in a random direction and end up someplace totally unexpected. Forgive me if this sounds irritating. I don’t mean for it to. In my day to day life I’m nothing like this. Really, I’m more of a habit-bound little man who would sooner loose a limb than break routine. I have rituals. I will get up and make coffee and go outside to smoke, come back inside and beat myself up for not being quit. Then, I will have my cereal--most often some variation on raisin bran. Like clockwork. Sometimes I will accidentally buy the kind with the clusters, and it really pisses me off when I pour it out and see them. I instantly remember how I hate chewing through these dense, hard, saw-dust clumps, and how they soak up all the milk and thwart the sweetness of any bite of raisin within 100 miles. But honestly, even the accident of winding up with the wrong kind of raisin bran is sort of a routine for me, because it happens often enough. It’s a routine within a routine. Someone somewhere could draw a diagram of this and it might just be either the funniest or the saddest thing ever. Thankfully, this bears no resemblance to my writing process. Once the inner critic is hogtied and left for dead in some dusty corner of my mind, I am free to head on down the road.I am not bound by ritual or habit. A left turn here, a right turn there, a freeway here, a random exit to look at the world’s largest ball of twine… and then Blam, I’ve discovered new territory. I’ve added some new geography to my internal map. I’m not saying I find El Dorado or even Euro Disney on these little word-journeys, but I often find small little places that keep it interesting. That’s the analogy. But what is it about ordinary everyday life that makes it difficult for me to let go and follow this process? Why can I do this when I write, but not when I’m out in the world choosing breakfast cereals? In ordinary, walking around life I am not so comfortable with novelty—as much as I like to tell myself I am. I’m stubborn and obstinate about small things like choosing a meal, or choosing a new pair of sneakers. In fact, I actually have the same exact pair of Puma’s (black suede with a white leather  swoosh, and white leaping puma figure on each big toe) that I had five years ago. I’m now three pairs down the line, but it’s the same pair of sneakers. And I’ll tell you something else, when they made slight modifications in the third iteration of my sneakers, I noticed.I stood in back of the leather-smelling shoe warehouse in the mall and actually hesitated buying them. I looked around irrationally for the ‘old pair’. Thankfully, my little routine doesn’t enter into Puma’s design decisions. And God help me if it did, or I’d have a carbon copy of the same sneakers I wore in 2006, instead of the slightly hipper version I have now. I’d be wearing cloned sneakers, in effect.  This leads me to a little dystopian fantasy. Imagine if I were a multi-billionaire and had controlling interests in Puma, Nike, all the big sneaker companies. Forgive me for not naming more, but my condition naturally limits the brands I am even aware of. I know of Nike, because they’re Nike and they’re everywhere. They probably own at least two of the lesser moons of Saturn, so they’re on my radar. Anyway, imagine I was this mega billionaire and I had the power to have it all: the [...]



Whaling Ships, Woolen Underpants & Writing Poems by Lamplight

2012-06-19T08:10:14.263-07:00



I wish I could chuck it all in and live in a little cabin and write poems by a gas lamp. 

But even in my fantasy, I'd have to find a way to pay for the oil for the lamp. 

And I'd probably have to chop lumber and fetch my own water--which would get in the way of writing. And then there would be the coyotes to contend with. 

And the woolen underpants.

There would be community pressure for me to attend regular meetings at the House of Burgesses.

And Elaine would need Gingham dresses to go to church in. God only knows how much Gingham would sting me for. 

I'd probably have to take a part time job as a whaling boat deck hand. 

I'd spend countless days at sea--be married to the sea, effectively--which would take me away from writing poems. 

I'd spend my time, in between pulling whale blubber off carcasses and vomiting into the crashing waves of the Atlantic, writing letters back home to Elaine, assuring her that the little cabin was only temporary, and besides, at least I was making enough money for her Gingham church dresses. 

And no, I do not have a girl in every port. That's just a myth. That's completely unfair.

No, I will not ask the Captain for shore leave when your family is visiting. Do you know how bad that would make me look? I've got my career at sea to think of now! Do you think I enjoy carving chunks of blubber out of whales to keep us in that cabin? 

My poems are important dammit! Some day perhaps three of them will be included in a cheaply made anthology, and discounted by 95% in the back of a very large chain of mercantile stores where one can purchase a whole assortment of other items.

Imagine that!

Oh, don't tell me the Ale is flat!  

That's it! 

Tomorrow morning, I will march into town, right into the offices of The Courant, and will get a job writing about the latest rash of chicken thefts. 

Or, better yet, maybe I can cover the minutes at the meetings of the House of fucking Burgesses! 
That's just as good as writing poetry!
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"Release the Fruits of Action": the twin clusterfucks of ego and expectation

2012-06-19T08:01:50.440-07:00

I've made lots of promises.Lots.Mainly to myself.  I'm going to do a liver detox. I'm going to shake a few pounds. I'm going to do a fruit and vegetable fast. I'm going to buy a new hat tomorrow. I'm going to quit smoking.  Looking at the list of things I've promised, several have to do with bowel or liver cleansing, which is interesting.But, leaving that aside.  Another promise I've made to myself: I'm going to write. I'm going to write every day. I'm not going to worry about the end result, or publication, or expect reward.I tell myself, I'm just going to do it for the same reason that dude who plays his acoustic guitar at the coffee shop plays his acoustic guitar at the coffee shop.He gets something out of it. He gets a little audience, maybe. He gets a few claps and the smell of burnt coffee in his nose. Maybe he likes burnt coffee.He gets to eat a cream cheese brownie afterward and feel cool for an hour sitting in the seats next to the people he just played for.He's not grandiose. He doesn't have an unhealthy level of expectation. He hasn't attached massive significance to it. He's not living and dying by it. He will have self esteem and self love afterward whether he cocks up and breaks a string, gets booed or outright ignored.He's just a dude playing a guitar. He's chasing that little buzz that comes from feeling like he's doing what he does and doing it in front of other people. Or at least, that's my little fantasy for this hypothetical acoustic guitar playing, cream cheese brownie eater: that he's on stage, humbly strumming his instrument, happy to connect with an audience and feel a little love.He's not expecting to light the world on fire. He's not expecting to have the audience erupt in fanatical applause and rush the stage. He's not expecting the brasless barista and roller derby chicks in the front row to drag him to the employee-only restroom and consume him in a caffeinated orgy. He's not expecting an A&R big shot to be sipping a cafe au lait in the front row, winking and smiling, crisp contract in hand, the devil standing at his side with a fountain pen and a small silver dagger. Or maybe he is expecting it. All of it. Maybe somewhere in the back of his mind, my hypothetical guitar player, underneath all outward signs of humility, the old, cheap guitar, the nondescript clothes, the unwashed hair, the perfected air of copacetic-ness, he expects it all.All of it: the dark dream of burning the coffee shop down with his music; the fantasy of melting a legion of fans and leaving them in ecstasy; the triumph of a climactic caffeinated orgy to end his night.And maybe that's what keeps him unhappy. And maybe that's what keeps him from playing more gigs, and getting better.I have sympathy for my hypothetical guitar player because for him, as for myself, fixation on the fruits of action, a.k.a, results, keep things humming along at hum-drum levels, or barely humming along at all.Growth is slow to occur, and any real chance at creating a healthy synthesis of the true wish with the copacetic status quo is hard to imagine. What is called for is not a brainless surrender to fate. What is called for is more courage and the decoupling of effort from outcome. Do the work without fixed outcome in mind, and paradoxically, success, whatever shape it ends up taking, will reveal itself.That's my best advice to the imaginary guitar player, and to myself.I promise t[...]