It’s the fourth of July. Early afternoon, but I feel like the day is mostly over. Or should be. I got up at 6:30 a.m., went for a jog, and, once I got home again, threw myself back into bed, running clothes and all. For the most part, I’ve been here ever since. Sure, I’ve gotten up to use the bathroom and put food in my face. I also got up to sweep under my bed for some inexplicable reason. But after completing each and every one of these quaint activities today – the sweeping, the eating, the jogging, the standing in the front of the air conditioner to cool off – I’ve gotten back in bed, which is where I am now. Supine, with a cat curled up at my feet.

Am I depressed? Lonely?

cameron

Perhaps a little of both. Rightfully so, given the recent circumstances of my life: the break-up, the boredom and extra time of its aftermath, the thinking. It’s just been me, my head, and my bed lately.

Still, I shouldn’t be shirking duties; specifically, I shouldn’t be eschewing fast-approaching deadlines like I have been all day. And all yesterday. And all last week. And probably all tomorrow. I should be writing. I should want to be writing. But, instead, I’ve been watching “Sense8” on Netflix.

netflix cures depression

It’s not the greatest show, but it fills up my time. There was this one scene, however, that got me thinking. In it this junkie dude – some tertiary character who doesn’t seem that important to the primary storyline – shows off these tally marks he’s got tattooed above his clavicle. “Every time I wake up and someone tells me I shouldn’t be alive, I get a new one,” he says. He’s talking to Riley, one of the show’s main characters – a disaffected, disenchanted young woman with purple hair and a frown. Much like the entire series, the whole scene is a bit cliche – full of tropes we’ve all seen and heard of before: the proud junkie talking about how the world is so fucked up that of course he’s going to “check out” of it every time he gets a chance, blah, blah, blah.

sense8 girl

But it did get me thinking. About myself, of course. And about my current state of inertia in particular. How I’m essentially watching “Sense8” in order to “check out” of my current obligations. If I get really “meta” about my life, which is what I’ve sort of half-heartedly been doing all day, I’ll eventually burrow so deep into my own thoughts on life that I’ll strike an impenetrable surface. I won’t be able to dig any deeper. That’s because this impenetrable surface is made of solid guilt. At the core of every one of my self-inquiry escapades is shame and guilt – the stuff of stubborn immobility, self-loathing, and The Smiths.

morissey

I don’t mean to be a drag, or imply that I hate myself. Because I don’t. But I do wonder, a little ashamed, yes, with a hint of apologetic curiousity: What right do I have to want anything other than being alive? Shouldn’t I just be grateful for that? Were I more of an attention-baiting exhibitionist, I’d have my own assemblage of tally marks tattooed somewhere on my body. But then I’d have to explain my past and that’s usually the last thing I want to do.

I met this old dude once who had this jacked-up disfigured face, like his skin had once been removed below his cheekbones and then crudely sewn back on by a five-year-old. He was a sweet old man. And a fucking happy one too. “You’re probably wondering about my face,” he’d said to me, smiling. At least I think he was smiling. “Years ago,” he said, “I got so drunk that I decided to try and kill myself. My plan was to shoot myself in the head with my shotgun. As you can see, I fucked that up real good.”

He probably had to issue this explanation every other day. It wasn’t like he could hide the literal scars of his past.

One of the first things I wondered about the guy was whether or not someone had loved him afterward. But even if someone didn’t, he sure seemed to love himself. In a healthy way; there was nothing narcissistic about him at all.

Shouldn’t I feel grateful, then, just to have a face? One that I can bury into a pillow when I lie down?

no

The answer is: probably.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Good night!

HONDA-REBEL125X7-0583-01

Every time I see a Honda Rebel 250 street bike, I think of cleavage. More specifically, my first intimate experience with cleavage. I was fresh out of high school, disheartened by the closeted state of my sexuality and the state – Indiana – in which I lived, surrounded by corn, mud flaps, and Baptists. I was 19 years old at the time; the cleavage was 43.

The cleavage, of course, belonged to a woman – Shaileen – who frequented the motorcycle shop at which I worked. Once or twice a month she and her husband, Leland, would roll into the parking lot on their gargantuan Honda Goldwing, its radio blaring, its chrome glinting in the sunlight like the shades of an insensitive celebrity. They were from New Paris, Ohio, a town just east of the Indiana state line, famous for being the birthplace of the Christmas carol “Up on the Rooftop.”

Shaileen was a middle-aged beauty, with long, spiraling brown and gray hair that, like the rest of her personal decor, hinted at bygone wilder days. Her black leather jacket had fringe at the waist and cuffs; she had a tiny metallic rose pinned on her left breast; on the right, a cockeyed patch of an eagle clutching an American flag in its talons. The smell of Aqua Net emanated from her head like heavy metal music from loud speakers – brash and, in close proximity, disorienting. Leland would venture to the back of the shop to chat with my boss and the mechanics, leaving Shaileen and I alone in the front of the store.

She would walk off to sit sideways on one of the floor bikes, crossing her denim-strangled legs and picking her nails. Then she’d light a cigarette and jut out her bottom lip to direct the smoke upward. Shaileen, the frozen aging fountain statue. I found her intriguing.

“What are you looking at?” Shaileen asked one morning. I blinked. Was she talking to me? Had I been staring too hard at the way she was picking off orange and black flecks of dried nail polish from her fingertips?  Mortified, I grabbed a bottle of glass cleaner, sprayed the counter down, and apologized: “I’m sorry. I really just like your jacket.”

Shaileen ignored my compliment. “Do you ride?” she asked

As casually as possible, I said, “I still have to get my permit. But I don’t own a bike anyway so what’s the rush.” I polished the glass counter top in vigorous, squeaking circles.

Shaileen crushed her cigarette out in a nearby ashtray. “I bet people give you a hard time about your size,” she said, getting up from the bike.

I nodded. “I’ve heard all the nicknames: Too Short, People McNugget, munchkin, Rhea Perlman.” I sat the glass cleaner on a shelf and stared down at the one immaculately clean circle I’d made on the otherwise gritty countertop. “What’s worse is that the smallest bike Honda makes, that Rebel 250 over there, is still too big for me.”

Shaileen stood on the other side of the counter, eyeing me up and down. “Bullshit,” she said. “Come here.”

As though under a hypnotic trance, I shuffled out from behind the counter. Together, we walked to the black-and-gray-toned Rebel 250 across the room. With Shaileen by my side, I didn’t find the bike – with its kickstand cocked, its handlebars askew – as intimidating as I usually did. Rather, I found it enticing. We stood there quietly for a moment, taking in the little Rebel’s charm. When I turned to Shaileen, smiling, I found myself eye-level with the fierce eagle patch on her jacket. Breast-level.

I blushed.

“Straddle it,” she said.

At first, the content of her demand didn’t register. I was startled by how powerful voice her voice was. Again, I obediently followed orders and threw my right leg over the Rebel’s seat. Shaileen followed suit behind me, pressing her body against my back, until we both were straddling the Rebel.

“You’re going to lift and balance it,” she said, a little quieter now. “It’s not as big and bad as it looks.”

I nodded. Like the fierce eagle patch on the breast of Shaileen’s jacket, I grabbed the handlebars with both talons. Then I lifted. The Rebel stood upright with ease, feeling almost weightless between my legs, our legs.

“Now we’re both going to sit on it,” she announced. “But carefully. You’ll pretty much be on my lap.”

The strangeness of the entire situation was lost in the immediacy of its excitement. We both sat on the Rebel – Shaileen upon the seat, I upon Shaileen. Then she rested her head on my shoulder and her breasts on my back. I was careful not to move a muscle. Even with the thick scent of Aqua Net wafting around my head, I sat completely still.

With thewhimsicality of a snow globe-wielding kitten and the energy of an infomercial host, Michelle Dwyer can make even thestodgiest of crowds smile, which she does masterfully as The Lithuanian Hall’s karaoke DJ (a.k.a. MC Dwyer).

kitten snowglobe

Not that the crowd at Lith Hall is stodgy; Michelle – donning go-go boots, a blue-and-white retro-patterned dress, and a ponytail high enough to put the U.S. women’s gymnastics team to shame – guides them through their melodious evening with grace.

I make my way up to the front of the room to talk to her.

“Hey!” she shouts, hugging me. “I’m so glad you’re here. Where’s the photographer?”

I shout back, “She’s sick! I’ll have to do!”

Then Michelle’s mom walks up. She and Michelle are spitting images of each other, with smiling eyes and a knack for buoyantly impatient pleas: “C’mon, c’mon,” Michelle’s mom says, bobbing on her feet, “Find the song.”

“Alright already!” Michelle shakes her head and hands her mother a mic.

As she does this, I look for a less conspicuous area from which I can perform observational research. I find this beneath one of two elevated amplifiers – probably not the safest place for me to be. I shrug to no one in particular, then scroll through my cell phone for the questions I’d emailed Michelle a few days ago.

*

So what makes your gig at the Lithuanian Hall so unique?

Michelle: The Lithuanian Hall has the feel of an American Legion Post with a kitschy, European twist. There is a mermaid painted on the wall and a glowing aquarium next to an old cigarette machine. You can bring your grandmother and/or meet up with hip kids who you originally only knew from Instagram.

*

Michelle’s mom has decided to sing Quiet Riot’s “Bang Your Head!” She goes all out, with defiantly brandished devil horns and self-inflicted whiplash. I snap a photo of her from my spot beneath the amps. Then I head for the bar. On the way, I trip on the dance floor, which is about twenty feet on all sides and elevated a few inches off the ground. Tables and chairs are stationed around it in haphazard fashion.

quiet riot

Many of my friends are sitting at a nearby table littered with cupcakes, farewell cards, and one super-impressive brand-new shrink-wrapped Battlestar Galactica board game. It’s a special karaoke night tonight – three folks who are not just regular attendees but fervid advocates of this monthly fete are moving out of state. To Michelle, the loss of these steadfast companions is heartbreaking.

It’s a bittersweet evening.

There are also several folks I know sitting and standing around the bar, which is a large square that encases the bartender. One thing that seems to please Lith Hall patrons is the genuine Lithuanian beer offered. Many of my friends are drinking some kind of lobster ale, which, like all the other homeland ales available, comes in a 500 ml bottle (roughly 17 oz.). Essentially, for every 100 ml of beer they get, my friends are only being charged a dollar. This is stellar news for the the thrifty poverty-stricken type.

I get a diet soda, sit down with some friends and wonder aloud about whether or not Michelle will be singing anything by her pop music idol, Celine Dion, tonight. “She’s got to,” I say. “She always sings Celine.”

*

So, how long have you been a Celine Dion fan and… why?

Michelle: I fell in love with Celine Dion when my Nana bought me a cassette of her first American album at Wal-Mart. Before long at school, kids I didn’t even know would point at me in the hallway and murmur, “That’s the girl obsessed with Celine Dion.” It probably got annoying for my teachers when I endlessly did all my book reports on her, but at least I wasn’t the, “scab kid.”

*

When there’s a lull in the lineup, Michelle puts on music meant to inspire movement from the crowd. Some folks at the table get up to dance, doing so with reckless abandon, having long ago abandoned their inhibitions recklessly. A few are even doing “the robot.”

michelle up front

Michelle joins the group, jumping and flinging her blonde ponytail back and forth.

Her sprightly effervescence makes it somewhat difficult for people to believe that, aside from being a party-rockin’ karaoke emcee, she’s a writer. A talented writer. With nary an ounce of angst or pretention in her, one might assume (as I did) that her 2012 book Junk Drunk was likely just a collection of saccharine-sweet anecdotal essays meant to be read in geriatric wards, outpatient clinics, or the suburbs.

When I finally read Michelle’s book, I was taken aback by her uproarious and plucky narrative style. If Amy Sedaris could somehow mate with and get pregnant by Judy Blume and then give birth to a self-published collection of essays about thrift-store shopping and befriending other neurotic mavericks of the trade, Junk Drunk would most certainly be that love child.

junk drunk

*

What types of people do or did you meet while thrifting? Was there a favorite or most memorable person?

Michelle: I obviously adore old people. When you go to a thrift store and you see a small, white-haired lady looking at secondhand pet taxis, most people assume she’s just another crazy cat lady. But once you get her talking and start asking her a lot of personal questions, you might get to hear all kinds of dirt about naughty things she did when she was younger. People really like to chit-chat in thrift stores because they are surrounded by “conversation pieces” and things that might remind them of their past. Once the past opens up, you’ve got stories galore!

*

If there’s one thing Michelle loves just as much as writing and being a karaoke DJ, it’s chit-chatting. All night she’s been walking around Lith Hall, up to various tables, smiling and laughing. There’s a strong likelihood that she knows most of the people here, but there’s just as strong a likelihood that, if she doesn’t know one of them now, she will by the end of the night. Michelle has no qualms approaching strangers to start up a conversation.

*

What’s a common misconception that people have about you?

Michelle: If you ask anyone who has met me, they will most often describe me as happy-go-lucky and bubbly. I agree that I am these things without being phony at all, but I’m also neurotic and often envisioning the worst-case scenario at all times.

*

After Michelle’s mother’s rendition of “Bang Your Head!” belting the commanding chorus with such heavy-metal gusto that several of us in the crowd were convinced to comply, two lively charismatic men get up to sing a tune from Hedwig and The Angry Inch. Their shadowy duet waxes dramatic beneath the orange-red lights that are silhouetted by their lead-footed pirouettes. Like proletariat ballerinas, these men don’t require glitter. The little square elevated stage will do.

jack dancing

And after this, songs of all tempos and frequencies are sung – some on-key, some off. The night progresses; the singers gather more courage while the crowd does less observing and more dancing. It’s not so much a show now; it’s a revival. Until the moment I’ve been waiting for arrives: Michelle prepares to sing her final number.

This is it, I think. Now she’s going to sing Celine.

But no, it’s Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time.” I edge closer to the stage to take a couple photographs. Michelle’s voice seems practically interchangeable with Cher’s. Maybe this is a better song choice after all, I think. If Michelle could turn back time, would she try to convince her soon-to-be departed friends to stay?

michelle singing

I look around Lith Hall. There are people in every nook and cranny. Over by the Battlestar Galactica board game, people are bidding each other long-term farewells. I worry that the thrill of Karaoke Friday will go with them. But soon realize I’m not giving Michelle the benefit of the doubt. Surely, she’ll keep the gig going. Just look at her up there! She’s giving Cher her all, the Lithuanian Hall her all, Baltimore’s literary and thrifting communities her all.

Now that’s the power of love.

celine dion

Join Michelle for karaoke at The Lithuanian Hall on the last Friday of every month.

Junk Drunk is also available at Atomic Books. More of her words can be found here.

Disclaimer: I’ve been crazy busy and admittedly sidetracked, so I haven’t kept up SCA like I should. To ameliorate this issue presently, I’m posting my first HuffPost article, “Notes of a Filthy Young Woman.” Mom, Dad, Grandma — maybe y’all have read this, but please don’t do it again. Thanks! 

Notes of a Filthy Young Woman

Before Cindy, there were at least a hundred women. Maybe more.

There was Giselle, who sat by me in a linguistics course and confessed to me her academic frustration in windy little Germanic whispers: “Gott, if da prof mentionz morphemes vun mare time, I’ll phonetically fomit!” She smelled like a well-kept duplex of college women who shared designer lotions and bowls of Chex Mix on a Sunday night — wild, domestically organized and melon-ish. I looked forward to her mid-class utterances — her chin an inch away from my shoulder bone, my knees like irregular verbs shifting to accommodate the present tense of my groin muscles.

There was Pamela, a coworker of mine at Pizza King. She loved to tell me the messy sex-details of her failing marriage. Late at night, once the dinner rush had died and all there was left for us to do was smoke and ignore the collage of pizza crusts, pepperonis and sausage crumbles on the floor, Pamela would divulge, even act out, her marital tribulations. I’ve never looked at breadsticks the same. Pamela found me comforting. To be honest, I was honored. In her grease-stained baseball cap, her platinum-streaked hair burgeoning in loops from the back; the way her thick eyeliner was etched around her eyes like a preschooler’s first bout with coloring ovals; my goodness, I found her sexy.

There were plenty of women: public transportation riders who’d smile at me across the bus-aisle; janitors, secretaries, lawyers, pedicurists, fellow students. There were ladies dumping high-grade octane into the orifices of their minivans, their offspring making blowfish-faces on the side windows as their mothers, shifting stance, proffered wishful gazes in my passing direction.

These gazes, in retrospect, probably expressed envy toward my childless, carefree young-adulthood. Or maybe these looks meant nothing. But, to me, they equaled lust. Restrained lasciviousness. All in one look.

All in my imagination.

Then, one evening, “Cindy from Philadelphia” sent me a Myspace message telling me I was a cutie. A cutie! I remember rereading the short message — Hey! I think you’re a cutie! — 10 times, at least. Maybe 26. Never was I so excited to be labeled as something descriptively equivalent to a tutu-clad pug or a fantastically fat infant. A cutie, for God’s sake!

What intrigued me most was that Cindy saw me first; had liked what she saw and responded. Kablam! Not with a passing smile. Not with a sway or a blink. Not standing in front of a Chrysler Town And Country or setting a can of Pabst in front of me, bending needlessly too forward; but with three words — You’re a cutie!

I was enamored.

Over the next few months, Cindy and I spoke regularly on the phone. During that time, I moved from my chilly mouse-ridden house in central Indiana to a remote island off the coast of west Florida. Cindy was a speech pathologist. We spoke a lot about linguistics on the phone. After all, I’d just barely passed the course (Thanks a lot, Giselle!) and, being a writer, I felt very much like a lingual nincompoop.

“It’s all descriptive,” Cindy told me one night. “Linguistics has a lot to do with how you speak in regard to where you’re coming from.”

I asked what had prompted her to contact me on Myspace. After a slight pause, Cindy said, “Well, you were there. I didn’t have to make eye contact with you. That was nice. Does that seem odd?”

I didn’t answer. I had just come from a long line of imagined relationships. What could I say?

Of course, I didn’t find it odd that Cindy flirted with me online. It’s much easier to disclose one’s feeling to a computer screen than to someone who might slowly back away. Or run. Every day, I invented steamy scenarios around the activities of my mundane life so that I wouldn’t have to deal with such disappointment face-to-face.

Right away I told myself I’d never tell Cindy certain things: For example, I would never admit that I used to scour gay bars — all two of them in Muncie, Indiana — trying to hook up with any woman who noticed a stain on my V-neck; that I’d settle, eventually, for some gal who claimed to enjoy Jane’s Addiction, for example. Someone who also liked dancing. And blinking. And oxygen. Then the two of us would stumble out of the bar, secretly rehearsing the other’s first name, toward my house. Once through my bedroom door, I never ceased being amazed by the awkward moment when she froze, her mouth agape in a silent horror gasp, while I excavated a shoebox out from a drawer.

No, I would never tell Cindy that, more than a few times, after scavenging around in my sock drawer to excavate a shoe box — “Do you prefer battery-operated or not?” – I’d turn around to find no one there.

I thought these incidents had something to do with my looks at first, the way my jelly rolls caught the light in my bedroom, transforming them into wide monster grins across the front of my t-shirt.

But I learned soon enough that, really, it was the state of my bedroom — old mail shoved into the slats of venetian blinds, a plant that had sprouted from an old Reebok; dust and dirt and ash and bloodstains. A habitat fit for forensics.

Still, I kept talking, wanting to talk, with Cindy because she had found me first. We’d already had tons of conversations over the phone and she hadn’t even seen me in person yet, let alone my new Floridian bedroom/unintentional greenhouse. I decided I’d try to be a cleaner person. So I cleaned my house — drove out the Palmetto bugs and washed the linoleum floor by hand with balsamic vinegar because Cindy had told me vinegar is a good, environmentally-sound cleaning aid.

I was hopeful about Cindy and I, sure, but not until I was certain it was love — real love — would I willingly admit certain things about my life. I figured it best to keep my mouth shut about the fact that I was a filthy, lousy housekeeper and a dirty-minded dyke. I had no lascivious looks from Cindy with which to make an assumption. When she flirted on the phone, I thought I could hear how she felt — she’d coo sometimes, or do that weird “W talk”, asking if I was “awwight.”

I wasn’t sure where we going, the two of us. It was all vewwy new to me.

“I love you,” Cindy said one night. She was laughing at a joke I’d made over the phone about how nasty the fish in Florida were. I was trying to work into the conversation my inability to clean by making the gulf coast seem like a hotbed of bacteria tides, trying to downplay the trash strand that was my own bedroom. Mid-chortle, she blurted, “I love you.”

Then it got silent. She asked, “Do you think that’s odd?”

I wanted to say that I’d always figured True Love and Convenient Compatibility to be not much different from the other. True Love is the long scenic, troublesome route between points A and B whereas Convenient Compatibility is the interstate bypass. But, without my own basis of comparison, I decided to keep mum. After all, I’d watched so many lesbian and gay (and straight) young friends crash and burn in relationships based on singular common interests. I always figured that I wasn’t the “settling” type. Hell, I’d witnessed a good friend of mine put up with her partner’s six twitching, near-bald, incontinent “rescue” cats out of love. Her face bloated, not from comfort weight but from Prednisone, my friend would talk to me over the phone and have to stop, mid-nosebleed, to tilt her head back. “Gotta make sacrifices,” she’d say. Sniff, sniff. “For love. You’ll understand someday.”

My friend’s selflessness was rewarded one morning by her partner taking off, silently, for no good reason whatsoever. With nary a “Goodbye” or even a valid excuse, such as “Take care, I’m off to marry a calico” or “I’m leaving you for that hot chick who works for Animal Control,” her partner just up and disappeared, faster than the Cheshire cat.

Yes, I definitely was not the “settling” type. I didn’t like what I saw when friends of mine settled. It was messy and bloody. Ruthless. To me, they were all being sacrificial lambs to the gods of Deception, Lust, Impulsivity, the ASPCA, and/or Cesar Millan.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell Cindy all this — my theories about True Love, my whacked-out imagination. I was honestly interested in what we might become; who I might become as someone’s significant other. A calmer person? Someone whose libido relaxed once it realized it was getting laid on a regular basis? I was curious.

One night, while we were chatting on the phone, I told Cindy, about Pamela and Giselle; about how I regularly mistook kind expressions from strange women as looks of late-night carnal covetousness. It all just came out of me, the whole ugly, hypersexual truth. Then I blurted, “Do you think that’s odd?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Extremely.”

We were silent. Her instantaneous response — “Extremely” — shocked me; hurt even. Still, I felt a bit of relief. “I’ve never told anyone about Giselle and Pamela and all the janitors, truck drivers, and soccer moms before,” I said. “So thanks.”

More silence. I kept talking: “It hadn’t occurred to me to talk about my furtive hyper-sexed imagination. Well, that’s not true. It did occur to me. But I always figured it was just there; something to keep quiet about but too authoritative to inwardly deny.”

“Go on,” Cindy whispered.

I told her that, years ago, it had been hard for me to admit I was gay in Midwestern, corn-fed Indiana. When I finally did, I left a letter in an embossed pink envelope in my parent’s master bathroom that read: Something Special from your Darling Little Girl.

Then I took off for three days.

But my big fat uber-desirous imagination? Well, that was something I couldn’t fathom admitting possession of. Like a Coolio album or beige granny panties.

“It’s odd, that’s for sure,” Cindy said carefully, “but not that weird. I mean, there are weirder things…in the world.”

I froze. “What do you mean?”

Cindy said, “Well, you just have some crooked sense of self, you know? You’ll probably grow out of it. We’re still young.”

I paused, thought for a moment. Really? That’s it?

Good enough for me.

In my mind, all the women before Cindy — the professors, the gas station attendants, the professional rugby players — they all at one, in my mind, glared at me. Stop thinking about yourself, they all said. And be a good girl to her.

So, in a deep, faux-sultry voice I changed the subject: “What are you wearing, baby?”

Cindy told me, in explicit, sensual detail, what she had on: a Polo shirt, Dickie’s work pants and camouflage knee-high socks. While she spoke, images danced in my head: A sexy woman operating a forklift; a babe in pastels shouting “Fore!” on the ninth hole; the mid-bush pearly whites of a hot Army vixen-sniper.

With all this in my mind, I fell backward onto my trash-ridden floor and grinned.

 

 

wild

I have to answer questions because I was tagged or chosen or cursed by Danielle Ariano to do so. I’ve also paid the favor forward to three jackasses — one of whom didn’t give me anything with which to promote his most recent endeavors, but two who did. These two fellas aren’t your average jackasses — they are TALENTED jackasses who both recently published books. If I were more sapiosexually-inclined, well, I still wouldn’t be attracted to these guys because they’re dudes. Duh. But more on them later…

Questions:

1.)  What Am I Working On?

I’ve been divvying up my writing hours between three things: working on my age-old graduate thesis (Hit the Ground Laughing) and turning it into a much longer piece of literature. I’ve also been writing about sobriety-induced insanity in odd little bursts that are both sporadic and compulsive in a way that feels vaguely familiar. And lastly, I’ve been keeping up with this blog. This latter endeavor for no better reason than to remind people that they should pay attention to me.

Ahem, over here.

2.) How Does My Work Differ From Others in the Genre?

I don’t know. Shit. I will say that my narrative often swings between two extremes: ridiculous humor and intense solitude.

3.) Why Do I Write What I Do?

As grammatically hazy as this inquiry is, I suppose my answer would have to be what it’s always been and will likely always be: I do think I have something to offer, especially now that I’m clean and sober, but even before all that. I mean, I have no qualms divulging the details about, say, the Star Trek rap my best friend and I composed at the age of 13, or about the first girl on whom I had a crush, following her all over the halls of Richmond High School like the awkward, creepy Trekkie-kid that I was. I think my non-uniqueness works well in this regard. After all, someone out there has similar tales of adolescent geekiness who can totally relate to mine, right?

 

Right?

4.) How Does My Writing Process Work?

Well, since I’m so often stuck in my imagination, I usually find my essays in there — oftentimes in a brain-drawer I haven’t opened in a while. Once I think I’ve got hold of a decent idea, I go to my computer and start typing away. I don’t have a set schedule because I’ve never had a set schedule. I will say that even when I don’t feel the urge to write, I try to sit down to do it anyway; usually, something comes of it.

 


Without further ado, I would now like to introduce the two writers to whom I’ve paid this blog-thingy forward. Check them out. Buy their books. Tattoo their names seven centimeters from your crotch. (I dare you.)

Dave K. is a writer and artist who lives in Baltimore. His work has been published in Front Porch Journal, Battered Suitcase, LOOP, Artichoke Haircut, Seltzer, The Light Ekphrastic, and Welter. He also self-publishes through Banners of Death Press. Keep up with him through his blog (www.beeohdee.blogspot.com). When he’s not writing, Dave K. is a future Boeing design for a long endurance, high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle.

 

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Austin Wall once upon a time had a therapist who quit her practice completely after meeting with him for two months. He works at a children’s shelter, writes in bars (but doesn’t smoke or do drugs), and loves sports, opera, and video games. His motto is: when life hands you lemons, squirt them in the eyes of your enemies. His previous works include the play Satan’s Shadows, the collection To Better Days, and the novel Deviant. He lives in Austin, Texas, but has once called Baltimore home (by choice), as well as Philadelphia and Lafayette, Indiana. He is single and is planning on putting whatever money he makes from selling this book toward putting an end to phone calls from student loan collectors.

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Weirdos.

 

1.

There is a framed photograph on my desk. In it, the silhouette of my body, legs bent, arms outstretched, as if about to fall off a cliff. Or jump.

And that’s where I get confused.

My legs are bent as if preparing to jump. But who willingly jumps off a cliff with arms out like that? My upper half is Eva Peron begging an entire country not to cry for her. My lower half consists of two legs frozen in time — conscientiously bent in countdown-to-blastoff position. In fact, on foot is already in the air.

It’s a weird photograph. A joke. I’m pretending to fall/jump off a cliff. My mom took it.

2.

My tin of sketching pencils is on my desk. Inside, some of the pencils are ground to comical lengths. I need new ones but, instead, I’ve opted to personify them. The little 2H pencil — the one with which I start a portrait because of how hard the graphite is, in turn, allowing it to render lighter marks — that’s the baby of the family. So shy, so vulnerable. Completely harmless.

The HB pencil is the middle child — the one folks would expect to be overlooked but, for me, is probably the most important; I need the HB to sketch nostrils. Its marks are easy to erase but likewise capable of being somewhat-dark. HB likes to test the waters like a preteen boy wearing eyeliner at breakfast.

2B is the oldest child with a slightly lighter concentration of sand and graphite in its tip, allowing it to render darker, more daring strokes. Typical alpha kid.

The mom and dad are 4B and 6B; they’re consulted only when I’m absolutely certain that the mark I’m about make is the right mark to make. Like with my own parents, I hesitate resorting to them for help.

There’s also 8B, but he lives in a nursing home, ignored.

3.

There are two identical photo-booth strips of me and Jay at a friend’s wedding. In the top two pictures of these strips, Jay is wearing a pimp hat and boa, making goofy faces. In the bottom two, Jay’s pimp hat is gone and he’s smiling a good-guy smile, as if asking, “What kind of car are you folks looking for today?”

In all of these photos, my head is cocked slightly to the right and my mouth is in various stages of being open.

4.

There’s a two-tone yellow-and-wine-red Glade candle. On its bottom is a warning: Do not light candle near anything that can catch on fire.

I’ve never lit the candle.

5.

On my desk there is a stack of journals and one novel-length memoir (The Boys of my Youth — of course). I actually use these for both inspiration and consultation sources. New South‘s Fall 2012 issue has a prose piece (first-place winner in the genre, actually) entitled “Idiopathic” by Anne Dyer Stuart. It’s an essay modeled after an excerpt from Amy Fusselman’s The Pharmacist’s Mate. In fact, at its very beginning is this disclaimer:

After Amy Fusselman’s The Pharmacist’s Mate. 

When I first read that line, a great wave of relief passed through me. Because I “borrow” a lot. Though I try to be as subtle as possible about it, I know that someone out there will know what I’ve done, from whom I’m “borrowing” a certain style or device. But I never “borrow” strings of consecutive words. Nor do I “borrow” plots.

Therefore, I feel justified in my “borrowing.” It’s like paying homage. There is a particular etiquette and set of rules to “borrowing” by which I strictly abide.

And while we’re on the topic of my writing code of ethics: I’m proud to say that I don’t use attention-grabbing tactics to attract readers my way either.

 

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I’ve always had a preoccupation with “death”. Not so much in a morbid or tragic way; rather, I’m far more intrigued by the personal inertia of dying. The moments preceding one’s stillness. One’s thoughts like churning gears grinding suddenly, or maybe slowly, to a halt. As a kid, it occurred to me that, after I die, birds will continue to chirp. Much later, these birds chirping post-personal-mortem morphed into random mind projections of my undergrad poetry professor, say, slathering a piece of wheat toast with boysenberry jelly, worried about having to replace the serpentine belt in his car, when he learns of my untimely passing and thinks about how terrible it is, how I once wrote a decent sestina for his class, how the word “sestina” almost sounds like “serpentine” and, oh yeah, he’d better call a mechanic.

And that’s that. I’m already long dead by this point. So do the memories in which I exist in my friends’ and acquaintances’ minds count as life after death? Can that still be considered movement after my body and mind have been rendered inert?

Is all of this even worth my curiosity?

I dunno.

This is just a test, by the way. I’m practicing. Presently, I’m not so much preoccupied with death as I am with describing huge and precise moments in general, death being just one of many. There’s also: the realization you’re in love with someone, witnessing or experiencing firsthand a catastrophe — a plane crash, for example; there’s saying goodbye and there’s the happiest moment of your life thus far. And on and on and on.

How does one effectively describe these fast and huge moments?

Well, I’ll use death as an example: I imagine its descriptive process, at its core, to be comparable to a game of Clue. However, instead of attempting to convey the impossibly abstract emotional mechanics of grief, I can try to pinpoint and theorize about the when, where, how, and whys of it and use my findings as my basis for description. For example:

Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick. 

First, let’s say I’m attempting to describe Colonel Mustard’s emotional state THE MOMENT he killed someone in the library with a candlestick. Remember, a moment is full of several movements and processes and, if you ask me, a moment has no solid place in the literal space/time continuum. In short, a moment could be several seconds long. But less than a minute.

I can’t just write: He was mad. So he whacked someone upside the mug with a candlestick.

(That’s a tad understated and comical.)

But I can use the fundamentals I’ve already got — the who, where, what — to illustrate the why. (If you’re wondering about the “how” at this point: c’mon, it’s a candlestick; he hit the victim upside the head.) I’ll call the victim “V”.

At first, the candlestick felt both foreign and illicit in Colonel’s Mustard’s white-knuckled grip, the way a human heart or an actively coiling Black Mamba might feel. Death was nearby. Immediately, he saw V. across the library, her curved forbidden back to him, gazing out the window. Colonel Mustard wondered if consolation was even achievable at this point; if it was simply a matter of time. But he knew — like most people know but won’t accept — that life can break open, against all odds and expectations, and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, like V. herself. Only these fleeting explosive moments are inevitably followed by others, far darker, the most sinister of which being this one. Had V. and Professor Plum kissed in this library? By that window out of which V. stared, oblivious to the Colonel’s presence, to the brass weapon in his hand? Had they done more than just kiss? Had the red Persian rug always been askew? 

That’s just part of a moment, don’t you think? I could make it last so much longer, fill it with words until I believe the intended emotion has been aptly and appropriately conveyed.

More on this later, I’m about to fall asleep…

 

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I’m going to meet Buzz outside a bar in downtown Ft. Myers. She says, “Go over the bridge. Do you see all the buildings? The lights? Are you over the bridge?” I told her twenty minutes ago that I was over the bridge. Now I’m just driving my Pontiac Transport van — imagine a gray space shuttle with four tires — in circles, around and around and around Ft. Myers proper. We’ve both resorted to shouting into our phones.

Buzz: “Do you see lights? The buildings?”

I am driving around and around the buildings, basking beneath the street lights, my Pontiac Space Shuttle is all aglow. I yell: “WHY THE HELL ARE ALL THE BUILDINGS HERE PINK, PURPLE OR SALMON?” 

I am new to Ft. Myers.

Buzz says, “Ok, just tell me what you see. Some sort of easy landmark.”

Up ahead of me, on the side of a salmon building, is a brightly-lit neon palm tree the size of the Frisch’s Big Boy statue back home in Indiana. I think, Frisch’s. I think, hamburger.

Wait. I think, landmark.

Buzz: “Abby, what do you see?”

I say, “A palm tree.”

****

I’m in the back of typography class, crying. The thoughts in my head surface in spurts: Ten days. Julian is leaving. You’ve got ten days. Make her love you again. 

Even my thoughts are gasping.

I rip my heart from my chest and throw it at the professor. It misses and slides down the dry erase board.

Then, a hand on my shoulder; a soft man’s voice close to my ear: “You ok?”

Cautiously, with my chin still tucked, I turn to my side. The man with the soft voice has a shock of curly, brown hair. But soft eyes above what is probably a soft beard. I’m pretty sure he’s Jesus.

I ask if he wants to get a beer after class.

Jesus nods.

Then we get up and leave.

*****

I don’t know Ringo* that well. I’ve seen him around, but I’ve never held a conversation with him. I don’t think he even has conversations. I’ve estimated his age to be somewhere between 45 and 55; he has gray hair, jowls, and a bottom lip that protrudes like a springboard from his face. Presently, Ringo is going around the room, making the same demand of everyone: “Look at my alligator boots. Look at them. Look.”

It’s difficult to tune a guitar and monitor a raucous but lovely troop of state hospital patients at the same time. My friend, Mel, is with me. She’s tuning her mandolin. We’re in the library, about to put on a show. Typical Saturday night. After my shift is over, we’ll hit the bar and have deep conversations of which we’ll have no memory ten years down the line.

Ringo saddles up to Mel, points to the mandolin in her clutched hand. “Oh,” he says, matter-of-factly. “My favorite song is playing on that.”

I ask Ringo to sit back down. Please. Just for a few minutes? On his way to the couch, he giggles and wags a finger at me. “I like you,” he says. “You’re a keeper. I like you and my new boots.”

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*Names have been changed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am walking home from Hampden. Down Keswick, where all the row houses are stuck together like protesters, safeguarding one of the last remaining green-ish grassy-ish lots in Baltimore from the cars, buses, and the passersby like me. I am walking at a steady clip, this stretch of Keswick being relatively flat with the exception of those occasional manmade street bumps built to keep vehicles from speeding. I am walking fast on purpose.

A few months ago, I went on a hike with a friend at one of the local parks — Loch Raven, I think, though I’m not certain — just after Baltimore had taken another snowy beating, leaving the streets jagged and bruised with slush. It was a frozen Sunday afternoon; icicles decorated the bumpers of cars, the gutters of row homes. I’d just finished a hefty bowl of turkey chili when my friend picked me up. Then, off we went for a brisk, rejuvenating trot in the woods.

My friend is an athlete, a runner, a scaler of the sorts of steep things that require a helmet, harness, and spotter. The only thing I’d recently scaled was the privacy fence behind my house after having left my keys on the nightstand, where they are always kept so as not to be forgotten. My spotter had been the neighbors’ dachshund, yelping indecipherable dog-threats as I grunted and groaned atop the fence, straddling its vertical wooden planks that, ever so slightly, swayed with the wind. A half hour into our hike, I was covered in sweat, cooking beneath my long johns, jeans, layers of shirts, and winter coat; I was out of breath, panting and wheezing, embarrassed of myself. I begged the turkey chili to please, please, please stay down in my stomach. Eventually, my friend and I stopped at a picnic table, upon which I leaned heavily, my legs shaking, my throat warm and scratchy — a hot metallic tube through which, had we walked any further, a fountain of stewed turkey chili would certainly have erupted. I told my friend that we needed to walk slower; I’m sorry. My friend graciously agreed.

Now I’m almost to 29th Street, which is where Hampden ends and Remington begins, where the occasional rogue grassy-ish lots fade into the concrete sprawl of the recycling center and train yard. I’m almost home. I take a sip of the coffee I’m carrying and its heat hits the exposed nerve of a rotten tooth, making me wince, making me declare “fuck, shit, damn!” to the world just as a pair of joggers pass by. My body is wrecked, I want to tell them, but it’s healing. Just you wait, I’ll be jogging alongside you in no time.

But they are long gone.

I now have quite a few athletic friends. People to whom, two or more years ago, I would have made snarky statements to make them feel bad for their healthy ways: “Do you jog in order to have an excuse to wear all that fucking hideous neon?” and “Do you run because you have daddy issues and you feel that doing so allows you to literally escape your psychological problems?” In fact, I probably did say such things to a few people. I’m sorry. I was so mean!

These days, I want to be fit too. And I outwardly admire my athletic friends, ask them for advice on what kind of running shoes to buy and where in Baltimore I should jog and not jog. And these athletic friends of mine who knew me two years ago, well, they at least seem to have forgiven me. Apparent in their proclivity to keeping themselves healthy, so was I, back then, in my perpetual state of miserly discontent.

I am a few meters from my house now. Soon, I’ll be in my office, reading, writing, typing away on my laptop. I’m suddenly in the mood to make a declaration. I want to tell all of my moving, shaking, jogging, dancing friends that, hey, I want to do those things with you. Please.

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