From Here . . .

So, I got to talking to Neil yesterday.  Saw his name, with the little green circle beside it, so I posed a question.  Thus began a most interesting give and take, bits of wisdom strewn about like so much confetti after the big parade, and yet not really like that at all, for it all had a point, made sense, wasn’t just tossed out there to be blown about by the winds and whims of chance.

  • I’m trying to think about how I “perceive you”

I like to do that occasionally.  Just start a real-time chat with an available person.  Sometimes, it’s awkward, like with the lady who showed up as a recommended contact via Google who happens to share the same name as my daughter.  Same unique spelling of an uncommon name.  No real rhythm, just starts and stops, digital caesuras, fingers poised but not striking, perhaps a bit of mutual, cautious contemplation.  We talked briefly and then went our separate ways.  I see her name there, another green circle, and I wonder where she is.  What the room looks like.  Is she alone?  Multitasking, or just bored? 

  • i see you as a solid guy

  • maybe Midwestern in sensibility, which is probably my NY-LA stereotype

  • like you enjoy eating in manly diner rather than anything too fancy

  • have good work ethic…. that bullshit

At dinner the other night, I belittled my son.  Acknowledged the elephant in the room in a way that cut deeply.  He cried.  Maybe crocodile tears, but I doubt it; he’s too genuine for that bullshit.  I am not that dad, the one who does it right all the time.  I envy those with young children, the kind who don’t talk back or think they know it all or remember the times you made them cry and hate you for it.  Even as they love you for all the rest.  The stuff you can’t remember so well anymore. 

  • Also your name Brian Thomas…. sounds sturdy.

  • like a quarterback

He won his first wrestling match this year, a pin in the first period.  A new year, with new coaches and a few new teammates.  Last year he wrestled only a few times, when the other team had enough boys for exhibition matches.  Yet he never missed a practice.  He ran, hopped, jumped, jogged, sprinted, assumed the position, every night for a month and a half.  Me?  I recall one practice.  One of two I survived.  Thought I could be the center.  Maybe the long snapper.  Cleats and pads and a too-big mouth piece that tasted like soap.  Real boys hit hard, don’t help you up when they knock you over.  I took the pads and jersey home, dressed up, put on the helmet, and smiled as someone took a Polaroid.  I look . . . ridiculous.  I wanted him to see that picture and be proud.  I quit the next day.  My boy?  He never quit.  And he won.  My turn to cry . . .

  • you definitely do have a philosophical bent

  • a thinker

  • cheek of god

Shoulder surfing instead of sleeping, he saw about Iris.  “Done,” he said.  The next day, she woke up, and I wanted so badly to tell him, to let him know that . . . what?  His prayer worked?  That prayer can indeed change things?  I still am not so sure prayer changes things, but I know for a fact that prayer can change the person.  His heart is so large, and he took a moment to care about Iris.  To consider her, and to wish and hope for her something that wasn’t pain or uncertainty or fear.  His prayer changed him.  He smiled when I told him.  Acted like it was no big deal but smiled nonetheless.  I could hear it over the phone.  His prayer is changing me.

  • so much of this is all capturing the mind of the other

  • that’s a book I want to read.

From here?  Things are unclear.  And by things, I mean the specifics of things.  Or perhaps the particulars of things.  The arc is an ancient one, lived out in a way peculiar and mine alone.  Hitch a ride, but hang on tight . . .

The Green Monster or: NaNoWriMo Can Stick It

manuscriptinbinderGrasp the subject, the words will follow.

~ Cato the Elder (234 BC – 149 BC)

We are eating scones made of all-natural ingredients and drinking hot chocolate, the milk the kind that does not come from cows and costs an arm and a leg for a half gallon. 

Chewy and nasty.

And then he introduces me.  A local writer and student of his wife’s at the local university.  This is his first reading, so let’s welcome him. 

Applause.

I sit on a stool that I have to bounce on the balls of my feet just a smidge to mount, and notice I am surrounded by a string of lights and hanging ornaments, ecumenical and bland.  December, 2004.  The young lady who read before me chose to stand off to the side, but I need to podium; I like to emote with my hands.       

I read from the first short story I wrote for Mary Ann, W301 – Writing Fiction, titled, interestingly, “The Cheek of God” . . .

Those who come to the area for horseback riding or camping can no doubt see the smoke from my fires but no one braves the terrain or ventures close enough to investigate.

The soothing sounds of winter are interrupted by the distant chewing and spitting of chainsaws blowing north from the less protected areas of the forest as some cheerful family drags O Tannenbaum from the edge of the tree line, their voices ringing with joy as they tie it with string to the roof of their minivan.

Very few times has anyone come within eyesight, their bright catalogue clothing contrasting sharply against this viridian curtain surrounding them. I watch from the confines of my cave, my breathing shallow as they struggle along the distant horizon and then disappear. I imagined them thinking to themselves how on earth did I get here just before turning back toward Weatherford Trail leading them safely back to their soft suburban existence.

Mine was a simple choice, and no one defies the grieving. Emma floated away wearing a superimposed smile. It never fades but instead grows more vibrant and charming with each remembrance.

Two thousand words inspired by a news article I had read about a man found living in the woods.  He wouldn’t talk about why, just packed his stuff and moved on.  So I speculated, and wrote, and it came to me in an evening. 

The thing that stumps me every year during NaNoWriMo is trying to do that every night, for a month, with no real plan.  I can’t do plans.  I have an idea, something that would be interesting to write about, and so I write.  Only, 50,000 words is a lot of words, and the story in my head doesn’t have legs like that.  I sprint.  Endurance is not my thing. 

Not that I haven’t gotten down some interesting stuff.  Like back in 2009, when I hit 20,773 words about a guy who wanted to kill himself but could never shut up long enough to actually pull the trigger.  Or this year, when I tried to write a YA fantasy/sci-fi sort of thing and came up with this . . .

Consider the soul.

No, seriously. Go. I have nothing but time. I’ll wait right here. So . . . GO!

(While you are doing that, I’ll spruce this place up a bit. Perhaps a splash of burgundy over the sofa. I’m growing weary of the green, which constantly brings to mind a twenty ounce Mountain Dew. I used to love Mountain Dew. I’d unscrew the lid off one about every meal. And the thing about Mountain Dew is that it is just as tasty whether you drink it cold, right out of the fridge, or at a more pleasant variety of room temperature. Something in the 60s. Fahrenheit. Which reminds me of one of my favorite books. Fahrenheit 451 by the incomparable Ray Bradbury. I had heard once that some big shots were thinking of making a movie out of that one. A movie for us modern folk, unlike that one from the 60s that starred Oskar Werner as Guy Montag. Who the hell is Oskar Werner?! Now I’m just getting angry . . . )

You’re back. So soon. Ahem. So, what did you think about.

Never mind. Stop right there. Because you’re wrong.

Something wholly indefinable and altogether wrong popped into your mind as soon as you set it loose. “The . . . soul?” You didn’t even prod your proverbial horse out of the proverbial gate, I imagine.

If you gave it a bit of a kick, you might have entertained notions of spirits or maybe even ghosts. (They are different, you know.)

Or perhaps some philosophical hogwash, such as Plato’s logos/thymos/eros trifecta, or the mind/body nonsense epitomized in Cartesian dualism.

Or maybe it was that old saw religion which reared its ugly head. Did you allow your certainties to show? Were you all set to preach to me about the soul as the seat of morality, and hence the motivation for right action when fed properly by a Spirit carried forth triumphantly upon a frequency transmitted from Heaven?

Or perhaps you embrace the eastern traditions and recognize your soul to be but Atman, your own individual slice of the majestic and faceless Brahman pie.

Or maybe you are hardened of heart. You don’t speak of a soul, for you have yet to truly taste of anything worthy of the name. For you, a soul is what most people lack, going about their days trampling each other underfoot and smiling empty smiles in the process.

These are but the highlights of a long list I could spell out for you. And they are all wrong. 

I like this story, but how long can there be just this going on and on about stuff and nothing happening?!  I tried to take the advice of others: just write and it will come; blow something up; create tension; blah, blah, blah. 

And after this, my third attempt and my third failure, I have gleaned this: every time I try this thing called NaNoWriMo, I end up with a bunch of little snippets, each nearly exactly 1,667 words long, of really cool stories all jumbled together in one big Word document.  I like my subjects, but they are small.  The words come, but they are fewer than what is required. 

One of my favorite writers is Andre Dubus.  Somewhere deep in my creative mind, I want to be Andre Dubus.  I don’t want to write long-form fiction.  I want to stick with simple stories about real people with real problems and not be tied to a word count minimum that looks like that big green fence in left field in Boston, all the way out there and unreachable. 

Or maybe I’m just an idealistic quitter . . .

[Flickr photo is by sidewalk flying and is protected]

Timeline

timeline

But what minutes! Count them by sensation, and not by calendars, and each moment is a day.

~ Benjamin Disraeli

 

 

I awoke this morning tight in the grip of a memory.

I am in a swing.  The wooden one-seater kind, suspended by creaking chains from a shiny, metal, tubular frame.  It is early in the day and I am on a school playground.  Only it seems smaller than most playgrounds I remember from my childhood.  This one is long and slender in design, with porous fencing all about and a sidewalk down the left-hand side with weeds breaking through the cracks between the slabs.  I am alone on the swings; the only other one hangs silently to my right.  No one is on the slide, a bit further to my right.  The sky is blue and blindingly bright and the moon is still visible, nearly full.

I remember the moon because I’m certain that this moment is the first time in my life I noticed that the moon can still be up during the daytime.  Which makes no sense when you’re a kid.  Also?  I see this memory from another – impossible – perspective, perched atop the roof, just above the door leading out from the school to the playground.  Only from this perspective, I can’t see me on the swing.  Or maybe I just didn’t bother to look.

In response to its prodding, I’ve brought this memory front and center in my mind many times throughout my life, and I really don’t understand why.  It’s just there, sometimes when I wake up, other times during the most inane of times, the silliest of circumstances.  I had it in mind when I wrote part of a story a couple years ago, about a playground full of children sucked up by the straw of God.  Most times, it just shows up, unannounced, and I take no significant notice.

Until this morning.  My eyelids were no longer heavy, sleep suddenly the strangest of notions.  And still, there was no big epiphany.  No revelation.  No aha moment.  Just the memory.  And I’m certain it happened to me.  One can’t make up something so garden-variety and cling to it as tightly as I have over all these years.

So I embraced it.  Tried to flesh out the details.  How old am I?  Where is this school?  Am I wearing anything memorable?  Is there a teacher nearby?  What is outside the fence?

What’s frustrating is that I can’t really talk to anyone else about this memory.  I doubt my parents would recall one little playground from those nomadic years.  I imagine they had barely the time to breathe.  And the details aren’t such that they are common to one particular object, like the other day at work when I described for my coworkers a particular car with a sloping rear window that terminated in a point and we searched Google for an hour and finally found it . . .

71BuickRiviera

Not like that at all.  This playground is mine and very specific to me and my perspective.  Even those that would have seen it would have seen it differently than I did, with all the attached emotions and particulars and that moon, dim but present enough to draw my wandering eye and capture my attention for these so many years.

A memory with no context.

And I realize that there are many other memories about my life that are like floaties dropped over the side of the pontoon that are gently yet persistently gliding away, out of reach.  Only not like floaties at all.  These memories are irreplaceable and forever trapped as just some vague and disconnected set of scenes that play over and over upon the big screen of my mind, with no narrator to help me flesh out the meaning.

And now this post is getting to be too much for me on this dreary, stale coffee Monday morning.  I’m thinking of Aristotle and how there are differences between specifics and particulars and also of the nature of memory and how unreliable a monster ours can be and finally of how most of what we consider to be “meaning” is actually some overwrought thing we choose to derive from, or impose upon, our experiences and that meaning is really way too subjective a thing to seriously contemplate.

But I can make a timeline.  That hit me this morning.  So I’m going to visit some office supply store this morning and pick up some yellow legal pads.  And I’m going to give each of my 43 years a couple pages, and I’m going to start jotting down the details of my life.  Where did I live?  Apartment or house?  Pets.  Cars.  Jobs.  The big things at first.  And then, as time goes by, the little things.  The tail on the donkey, only without the blindfold and all that nauseous spinning.  I will try to fit it all into some knowable and confirmable moment in time.

And Thanksgiving is coming up. We always struggle finding things to talk about during dinner, so my new project should provide plenty of entertaining fodder.  I mean, it is all about me after all.  And that damn moon . . .

[Flickr photo is by Lauri Väin and is protected]

Ring

For hours and hours it bore the brunt of our jabbering. If only phones could talk . . .

If there was a cord – and back then there generally was one – I would stretch it across the dining room, twist it around the backs of chairs, and wind it around my finger until it curled upon itself. An irreparably damaged, serpentine tether.

And the sweat! The earpiece slip sliding over my outer ear and falling to the floor if I didn’t wipe it off on occasion. Once, I wandered a bit too far and it suddenly wasn’t there anymore, yanked away despite the vise-grip shrugging of my shoulder and the tilting of my head and the craning of my neck. Muscles and actions that seldom failed me.

Ma Bell and I, we were tight. She carried the weathered and weary sighs, the muffled giggles and outright, outlandish guffaws, and the sweetest, cacophonous chasms of silence across the miles, over rivers and hills and fields of flowers and busy metropolises, and never let on that the whole thing was miraculous. The way science and technology can be when we stop to think about it and not get caught up thinking of it as nothing but the way it has always been.

It snowed yesterday. Enough to make the relatively short trip home a sudden and unwelcomed ordeal of no small magnitude. So I instead drove to my mom and dad’s house and spent the night there. On the couch, sort of like the good old days. And before I went to sleep, I called my wife. The one who back in the day had her place not only in my heart but on the other end of the line. I had gone home for a semester, and home stood entirely too far away.

We’d talk about important stuff. And it all seemed important. And then we’d talk about the little things. And then we’d talk about nothing at all. Eventually, we’d just listen. Sentences would end, or even just trail off, lose their steam. There were fewer questions then. And answers had no particular finality.

No reason to hurry. To wrap up the conversation so we could go back to whatever. Whatever didn’t really matter or seem all that important. Instead, we lingered.

And the minutes glided by . . .

[Flickr photo is by flattop341 and is protected]

Would You?

I wear dentures.

This is probably news to you, even if you’re a longtime reader. I wrote about it once, a long time ago. And it hasn’t really come up much since then, so you probably forgot.

I never forget.

Prior to making the decision to yank them all out, I broke off one of my front teeth as I bit into one of those caramel, pecan and chocolate doohickeys. Turtles they are called, for what I can only suspect is a really awful reason. I felt the tooth give way and I pulled the candy out of my mouth and there was my tooth, lodged in heavenly yumminess.

For the record, eating Turtles is just one of about thirty-seven thousand things I did wrong that led to my poor dental health. I’m not stupid, so you don’t have to go and point it out to me in the comments. 😉

Before that moment, standing before the mirror in my downstairs bathroom, I had never really felt that particular shade of inescapable shame. Most times, things can be covered up. A sly story here, an outright manipulation of the facts there, and almost any shameful situation can be either eliminated completely or laid at the feet of another person.

Made their fault.

Surely not mine.

I suppose I could have tried to spin it in my favor. My mom and dad never forced me to brush. Never made dental hygiene a priority. They should have reminded me more. Taken away privileges. Spanked the shit out of me. Whatever. If they had just made me brush my damn teeth, then I would never have had to stand there at my best friend’s wedding reception with only one front tooth.

Oh, yeah.

They greeted me with smiles. I tried to keep my lips closed and talk at the same time.

Smooth.

I held my hand in front of my face and talked around it. Did the same with my napkin. My, I was such a neat freak! I smoked cigarettes one after the other with high school classmates I hadn’t seen in twenty years and blew smoke away from the crowd and talked in the direction of the ground or the walls or up in the sky. Anywhere shy of eye to eye.

To their credit, no one said a word. My wife felt my embarrassment, and must have been a bit embarrassed herself, but she never once let go of my hand if I chose to embrace it. Never once turned away if I snuck close for a kiss.

The dentist and I decided that my teeth were too far gone. Beyond rescue. I felt bad for him, having to gape into my sad and pitiful maw. So I made the appointment with the denture people. They of the strong stomachs. And I kept it.

So now, I have a glistening smile, moored in place with pink gooey stuff that comes in a tube just like toothpaste. I take them out of the cup and scrub them clean every morning. Had I done this with my real teeth, I would still have them.

Now I have a genuine, literal, plastic smile. I wonder who knows. I think this during every conversation. Every glance my way. Every time I laugh and smile too big. Is it obvious? Do they care? Would they think differently about me?

I used to talk for a living. Now, I slur the letter S if I get to talking too fast. And if I have to talk much toward the end of the day, my bottom plate usually jostles about and I have to talk differently, actually think about the process of making sounds. And I wonder who notices.

Would you?

: What are you busy hiding that everyone can see?


And no one gets to say their Unibrow. I’ve got that one covered as well . . .