Sunday writing 20150607: The Love Lecture

“Love is a state of balance,” I say to the nearly empty lecture hall. “A person can hate a thing he loves; there’s no contradiction in both loving and hating a thing. Man was made, I think, to experience both pleasure and pain, fear and amusement, intense like and intense dislike. Without a balancing of polarities, nothing would ever be known.

“I think the whole of human experience fits inside a perfect circle, and all emotions are its diameters. The two points at the outside of the circle are the two possible extremes, and the center is nothing–zen-like, right?–but we’re never there, neither filling to the edge nor fully balanced in the center. Our selves are each some blob made out of the measures of our placements for each category, mapping our experience of the infinite possibilities of our emotions.

“I can’t accept the notion that humans only have several basic emotions and that all non-basic emotions are just mixes of the basics. We experience life in polarities, not in vectors, and saying all rage is “anger” is like saying morose just means sad: the statement itself may be technically true, but some technical truths abuse the Truth.

“That’s why the semantics here are important. It matters that love is not an emotion. Love is a state, and it weathers emotions, or it bears them. In fact, love is the circle and contains within it all the polar possibilities of our experience. The more capacity we have for love, the larger our circle grows, the more extreme our emotional possibilities. The absence of emotion is death; curtailment of emotion is to live like the dead. That’s why I can’t accept Buddhism.”

“What do you mean,” she called out from the peanut gallery, “that you can’t accept Buddhism?”

“I mean–” I started. I paused and took a breath, pacing behind the podium before reapproaching.

“I mean: If Buddhism were about experiencing all that life has to offer and realizing the emotions are just emotions and there’s a greater existence we can have separate from them, then great. I mean, that’s life, and that’s live, to participate in everything life has to offer and still maintain a balance, that from minute to minute life just happens, and there’s nothing particularly binding about any of it but us and our narratives and our dreams.

“But that’s not the Buddhism we’re studying in class. Buddhism is about minimizing suffering, and I can’t accept that. Suffering is part of the human experience, and we can’t just dismiss it and say that all we want is pleasure. If we live without suffering, we live without pleasure, too, and that’s not balance, that’s nothing. To live life without active participation, to passively wait for all interference to leave and to call the void balance is to turn our back on part of life. And, and maybe even to reject God himself.

“I mean that there is no pleasure without pain. There are no smiles without tears. We have no peace without strife. To minimize suffering is to minimize all, and to minimize all is to reject life even to the point of death.”

She called out: “You’re a dualist!” I think she was smirking, but I was too busy formulating to see.

“I–no,” I stammered, hesitating, considering. Augustine was a dualist. Fantasy writers are dualists. I believe in more than light and dark, good and evil, life versus death. “There are twos and threes to this thing: There is what you can be and what you are, and what you can be has poles and what you are is a point between them. In the ideal, there’s two. In practicality, there’s three.”

“Dualism,” she answered.

“All numbers can be reduced to multiplications of twos and threes. When you break the world down to its most basic parts, it reflects this basic truth. It is divided into multiplications of two and three.”

“But you said all things are three!”

“We don’t experience all that life has to offer all at once. There are factors that we’re missing in every day.”

Now I know she was smirking: “Are we denying God in all the thing we miss?”

“I–” I started again, but stopped, considering. “I believe so. Life requires both balance and participation.”

“Yes,” she answered.

“We must pursue both all that life has to offer and a balance.”

“Yes,” she said.

“Negation and suppression are rejections of life and God.”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Balance and participation are worship of God.”

Yes, I felt her agreement. She stood and began shuffling out of her aisle seat and moved towards the stage.

I continued: “All that matters in life is that we’re on the circle and that we exist as averages on each line. We can’t help but do that except through avoidance and rejection. To participate in one’s own life is to live in worship. To avoid aspects of one’s own life is to live outside of God’s promise, which is to live without the act of worship.

“The more we grow in God, the more capable of participating in our own experiences we become, the larger our circle grows, the more effort required but the more experienced we must are at finding balance, at finding God’s peace.”

Face to face on the stage, she said, “Yes,” and cupped my cheek in her hand. She led me from the room, and we continued our adventure.

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Writing group 20150531

Patrick Ball. Cursed be his name and his children.

No, that’s wrong. He’s fine. Cursed be Christina and all of her name.

No, that’s wrong. I’m inept. Like so many other times, I missed all the red flags. Well, I didn’t miss them so much as purposefully ignore them. Well, I didn’t so much ignore them as watch them as we zoomed by them. I breathed deep. I trusted. I whiffed at love. I missed it all.

Patrick. How deeply in trouble were we by the time we met Patrick?

In many ways, Patrick reminded me of myself but better, classier. I had quit Tae Kwon Doe in my youth and stopped wrestling after my knee accident, gaining weight up to the 280 pound lard asses I used to have made fun of in my youth, forgetting that I had been fat before wrestling, too. Patrick was a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Doe, never one to back down from anything as far as I know.

I drank sometimes and casually. Patrick was a vodka conesseur. After having drunk a bottle of wine myself in my own apartment at my own party (Halloween 2004), I left my party and found my way over to Patrick’s apartment where I drank vodka with him and Christina into the wee hours of the night. Then we went to iHop, where I spent at least 10 minutes vomiting in their awful toilet in their awful bathroom. Not my shiniest moment.

I read Terry Goodkind through book #6. Patrick had read Terry Goodkind and had informed opinions about King’s Dark Tower trilogy and had read more besides. I’m not sure that’s a point in his favor, but we’ll call it that for now.

Built like a little truck with cropped blonde hair, he reminded me of myself, and I liked him. Christina liked him, too. We had met him in Japanese class, and I had seen him around my apartment complex (LL Sams) and befriended him, and he and Christina became fast friends, and everything was in line for him to join our group. But then Christina asked me to back off and let her have him as her own friend instead of being our friend, and I agreed. Why did I agree to that?

“You’re socially agressive,” she told me one day. “All my friends are your friends now.”

I asked, “Aren’t they our friends, and isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t we all belong?”

“But they used to be my friends,” she insisted. “Prachi used to be my friend, and you didn’t even like her, and she didn’t like you. And whatever happened to Katie? I used to be friends with Katie.” (Christina and Prachi had lived together sophomore year; Prachi had disliked Mani, who openly and purposefully offended her on their first meeting [Mani being Mani.].)

“Katie doesn’t like me, but I don’t have any problem with her. You can invite her around if you want.”

“There is no being around me without being around you.”

I didn’t know what to say. (Now that I’m wondering, where were Patrick’s friends? Why did we only meet him and never anyone new from him?)

“Just back off, okay?” she finished. “Let me have Patrick to be my friend, not your friend, not our friend.”

“Okay,” I said. Why did I agree to that?

This would have been in September sometime, with Halloween to follow. Then sometime maybe in December I knew the end was at hand, and I fucked her one last time on his couch. And we broke up. And I broke; all spring I was broken. (Where in all this was that shaming walk with Kalli? It must have been before the breakup; I remember Patrick being thoroughly uncomfortable and offering to back off if that’s what I wanted. Was he sincere or coy? Was it all well-planned, or was loving Christina a gift that appeared in his lap one day?) (Where in all this Christina moving in with him? I think it must have been by October; why did Christina have to move in the middle of the semester? And where Brody, attached to her previous apartment?)

Christmas came and went, and sometime around February I remember staying up all night crying over Terry Goodkind. The book was awful and totally incapable of causing any reaction in me, but the pain of missing Christina had ripped me up, and my stomach hurt until I cried. I had been writing her poems, but now I began writing her essays like our old days. I wrote one based on Third Eye Blind’s “Good For You”, which is how I saw Christina, rattling chaotically through my mind. I left it at the door of her and Patrick’s apartment. She met me down on the stairs in between our buildings, and I cried and bawled and would have kissed her feet if she hadn’t told me that I needed to be not so pathetic. I stopped crying but still sniffled, and I asked her if there was any chance of getting back together, and she said no. (When in that time did she and Patrick get together officially? I don’t know.)

As soon as Christina and I were broken up, Allison made herself available. I visited her apartment with Aaron one day, and while he was off in the bathroom, she confessed her deep attraction to me. I rebuffed her, both because she was Aaron’s girlfriend and because Christina and my separation was still too raw. (Christina and I were married in the eyes of God, weren’t we? We negotiated the morality of our sex, said our vows, and I entered her gently. Wouldn’t God protect us? Isn’t there either love or not love? Isn’t love–true love, not just lust–immortal? Isn’t immortal love what we were supposed to have together?) I left Allison rejected, and she admitted to Aaron what she had done, and I lost his friendship for years (and abandoned hers until the next August, when she called me one day and asked me if she would visit Dallas whether I would fuck her, and c’mon, you don’t say no to an offer like that).

As soon school restarted after Christmas break, Sarah made herself available. I rebuffed her, not just because of Christina or because Steve but also because she was still friends with Courtney and Andrea. But she stayed by my side all semester, and friends and strangers asked us how long we’d been together and when we’d marry, and I kept asking her if she’d visit Europe with me after my graduation, and the night before I left she finally said yes, and my sister got so sick of our flirtations (if they were there at all) that she ditched, and then we started fucking–me and Sarah, in Europe, before Allison–and we kept going for the rest of the trip, and when we got back all our friends asked if we were together and she said yes and I said no, and that did us in for a year until I went down to Waco to help Justin move out of college and Sarah and I rekindled and re-began fucking and I got jealous of her going out to clubs and nailed her down in a relationship and didn’t dump her like I should have when I moved to Boston and I lived in years of jealousy of her out at clubs and drunk with her friends and years of misery once she moved up to Boston to be with me. She suffered her auto-immune disorder, and I suffered a layoff and bankruptcy, and then one day soon I left. That’s the story of me and Sarah writ short.

But that spring semester I pined. I watched her longingly from afar and cried at her feet. I lived deep in shame about my dumping her and deep in anxiety about whether we would find our immortality again. We talked in the bath house, and we talked in her and Patrick’s apartment. (Where in that timeline did she tell me that she wouldn’t be my Beatrice? After we broke up and before winter break, I think.)

I think that she had cheated on me with Billy that first Christmas break, but during that summer in Oxford I did cheat on her. I fell for Julie, her too of glowing white skin and straight brown hair and philosophical tossings and romantic pinings. I spent almost my whole summer with Julie and under Justin’s careful and socially ambitious scrutiny: “Why do you spend some much time with her? Let’s meet other people on the trip, too,” he pleaded, but I only had time for July and Justin. I engaged in social obligation to interact with whoever he brought along for our plans, which prompted my only interactions with Kelly (to Dublin) and Alan (for a night of drinking in Trafalgar Square).

Also, too, with Katie (Dunlap) on that same trip. One night in Oxford, Justin, Kiran, Katie, Haley, and I went to a bar. We met a Texas oil tycoon who bought us who reminded him of home pitchers of Long Island Ice Teas, and I must have drunk a pitcher myself. I stumbled back with the rest to Christchurch College, and I left Kiran and Justin at Justin’s room near the gate even after Kiran asked to walk me back to my room, I think to protect me from Katie, who–to be fair to her–did get my back to my room unmolested. After I closed the door, she returned and knocked, and when I opened it, she launched at me, kissing and hugging and fondling me, and I got her to my little bed and opened her pants and put my fingers inside her, easily gliding in her hot wetness. But somewhere along the way I lost steam, and rather than engaging in drunken (at least on my part) sex with Katie (as I had previously with Sydney, ending in chlamydia [Did I remember that in my drunken stupor?], you fool), I asked her instead whether she wouldn’t want to make this real, and whether she wouldn’t prefer for me to be sober and we could do this thing for real, and she agreed and left me for the night (as far as I remember), and the rest of the trip she would sit on my lap and we would kiss lightly and I might fondle her, but never did we hook up, but even on the plane ride back I was promising to break up with Christina and make me and Katie a real thing, but when I disembarked the plane, there was Christina, and I hugged her and loved her and kissed her all in front of Justin’s father (in fact, where in this was Katie? We came back on the same flight, and Christina met me at the baggage claim….) (The passion with which I met Christina feels indistinguishable from the passion with which I meet my wife in my most dire need, and that’s an awful feeling, to know that despite emotional health and maturity, my desire is only my desire is only my desire.)

(And speaking of drunken sex, there, too, was Emily. Junior year: I remember her visiting me at Rivercrest. [How did we meet, me and fat Emily, the education major? After her, I agree wholeheartedly with the stereotype that education majors are all horny freaks, making female teacher / male student sex scandals not at all surprising; they were so popular around my knowing Emily.] She came to my apartment and wanted to get drunk together and fuck, but I rebutted that if you couldn’t do something sober you would do drunk, you probably shouldn’t be doing that thing, and she agreed and came over and sober we fucked. Later, at her apartment [near Christina’s, across the intersection, I remember], she tried to introduce toys, and the hippocracy of this in the face of her Christianity [Did we meet at a chruch? Or did I just hear her talk about her Christianity often?] was too deep a turn off for me, and I had to leave her unsatisfied, and we never fucked again. A constant refrain for those Texas Christian girls: I didn’t mind premarital sex, but if you do, then don’t come fuck with me. Outside of the mysticism of my adoration for Christina, I’m not and never have been particularly religious, and I don’t want my conflict for your moral state to cloud the clarity of my moral state. I want to be a good man; I just don’t know how somtimes.

The wanting to be a good man colored why I participated so painfully in the relationship with Christina and also my choice of majors and the subjects I took seriously, like Christianity. Christina asked me once early in sophomore year whether I was in a relationship with her because it was convenient or whether I would fight for her if we didn’t share courses or otherwise didn’t have convenient reasons to be together. I told her I would fight for her, of course, but then we broke up before winter break, and I think we did break up because being in a relationship while so far apart would be inconvenient and we did get back together on returning from winter break, so I mean, really…. And I spent a lot of my time during this year and next wondering about whether a man was better for struggling and overcoming or never having struggled in the first place. [Who makes the better drug counselor: the recovered addict, or the psychologist who studied but never felt addiction?] And I decided in these years that I would never write for profit, which seemed moral, but I am selling my life hour by hour, and I don’t know how to measure the moral difference between selling hours as raw ore or hours as refined writing. And I decided in these years to change from CSI to GTX, but I don’t have any proof after the fact that a liberally educated man is actually capable of being a better man than a computer scientist. And in these years I spent too much and made too little, I too deeply engaged in too small suffering and too lightly valued my joys, and I expirimented too broadly with too many things that left too many marks. [Remember Jennie and the sophomore year rape and the junior year casual sex and the kicking out of Mani and the spring break that began his whole engagement story and all its heartache. Remember Sydney and the chlamydia. Remember being on the phone with single Christina during a break in the night shift at Walmart singing her 3 Doors Down lyrics while suffering the burning urine of that disease. Remember the actual arrogance that superceded the casual accusations of your and BIC members known arrogance. Remember the cheating and the broken promises and the heartache you brought on yourself. Remember that, you who to presumed to be good. Remember what a little shit you were.

([Remember, too, the wild flowers. Remember, too, the art. Remember, too, the friends. Remember, too, the pride of your schooling, and help you gave as a teacher’s assistant, and the swooning you prompted as a Student Advocate. Remember Kate’s broad shoulders in that dress she wore that night, and remember how proud she felt to know you. Remember your strengths as well as your shortcomings. Remember your successes as well as your anxieties. Remember it all, you fool.])

**

I was arrested at the Bellmead Wal-Mart my freshman year. Colt and I would drive up there at night, usually after 9 or 10pm, and we would grab drinks out of the fridges in the back and hang out drinking them in the closed McDonalds and then walk the store aisles looking for goodies. We made off with hundreds, I think, in valuables, including a graphite pool stick (which I used) and a cordless phone (which we didn’t). The cordless phone had been the display model not properly secured, and we had gotten it home before we realised that it didn’t have a power supply, so we had returned the next night to get a generic charger. I put the charger down the front of my pants, and Colt had some other items–I think maybe a video game CD and some music CDs–in his pockets, and we even bought something, but not the power supply in my pants, and that set off the theft detectors.

Let me tell you that if you’re ever in this situation–leaving a store where you’ve stolen something and the system goes off–walk, don’t run, to your car. Don’t stop, don’t turn around, don’t look confused on guilty, don’t return into the store to see if you can be of help. Colt followed this advice and made off with his merchandise. I didn’t and got pulled into the manager’s office and waited around for the police to show up, and when they did they put me in handcuffs and took me to jail for the night.

It wasn’t super scary: I sat alone in a solitary cell for a while, and then they moved me over to the general holding cell with nine or ten other men. I picked a bench against the wall and covered myself in the scratchy potato sack blanket they’d given me, and I woke up in the morning a little while before it was my time to “see the judge”, and I wondered about whether they’d let me out in time to get to class and how I’d make it back to Baylor from the jail.

Colt attended class that morning while I stood in front of a TV with a satellite link to the Bellmead judge, and he asked me casually whether I pleaded guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the class C misdemeanor of theft under $50, and I pleaded guilty, and he said, “Fine,” and gave me back all my pocket stuff and let me go. End of experience. I called Colt, and he came and picked me up, and we laughed about it, and life went on with no consequence. #crimingwhilewhite

This was probably in or around the time that I was getting to know Jennie and stealing her away from her long distance relationship with Jimmy, whose friendship had begun to wane while I was at Baylor and he was still in Dallas. I didn’t tell Jennie (or anyone else until much later) about the incident, and nothing ever came of it. Jennie came to visit me in Texas and that first day we met gave me head in the grass around that Frisco pond, which as far as I was concerned made her the greatest girlfriend in the world. We stopped at a Victoria’s Secret on the way back to her parents’ house in some richy suburb just like Plano north of Fort Worth, and very similarly to my first experience, I blushed and couldn’t look at any of the merchandise; she grabbed my hand and lead me around the store asking me about this and this and this, and then she tried the items on and we went to her parents’ home and she wore them and pulled a muscle in her back while we fucked, which I thought was both funny and pretty mortifying, since she had to keep referencing the pain and make up a story about how she’d done it once her parents came home.

I visited Jennie for her prom (I bought my plane ticket on a credit card! How exciting!) and met her highschool friends, one of whom (Stacy) was hotter than she was and I flirted with on and off throughout the evening, and the other of whom was more overtly sexual (like Sarah’s Big Bean) and whom I avoided throughout the night. She had remained in California with family friends when her parents had moved to Fort Worth for her father’s job (radio tower engineer), and though those adults had put me in a separate room, I spent most nights with Jennie. I remember I went down on her for what must have been fifteen minutes, and I thought I’d never get her off, but eventually we got there, and my cheeks were sore all the next day, and I later learned more specifically what I was supposed to be doing and never had to perform for that long again. I also remember learning for the first time about California’s drastic weather changes between day and night: we had gone to an ocean-side cliff near her house to watch the sunset, and one minute it was 80 and I was dressed comfortably, and the next it was 60 and I was sorely underdressed, and I shivered all the way back to the car. (This, b-t-dubs, is why Californian men where sweatshirts and shorts, and sandals and socks.)

It was in this context, of Jennie’s sexual maturity and knowledge outstripping my own, that the rape occurred. I had been losing interest in her for the whole month she had attended Baylor, and one night I didn’t answer her call, and she came to my home anyway, and opened my door anyway, and I didn’t respond to her being in my apartment, and she fucked me anyway, and she came and I didn’t, and she left anyway. And we broke up.

It was in this context that she proposed that double-date, and in this context that I casted about for others to join us, and in this context that I didn’t care much about how Christina’s presence or our interest in each other offended her: early sophomore year.

Later, early junior year sometime, she would reach out to my via AIM, and I would agree that lonely horniness was the worst, she would come over and we would begin our non-serious sexual fling, and in this context that she would begin dating Mani and stop fucking me, and in this context that I would ask them not to fuck in my bed (literally anywhere else is fine, like Steve and Sarah, just not in my bed, OK?) and they would fuck in my bed and I would kick Mani out and tell him as long as he’s coming to see her and not me he can stay in a fucking hotel, OK? And in this context that Mani and I would bro-fest to Padre for spring break and he would ask for my blessing to propose to her, to which I deferred and accepted rather than agreed, and in this context that they would get engaged shortly thereafter. And in this context that that BIC religion (world cultures IV?) professor would say, “Let’s get the gossip out of the way: hands up those who got engaged over spring break,” and half the room raised their hands and I didn’t, and a few colleagues in the room gasped and asked that I didn’t propose to Christina, and I shrugged and said it wasn’t for us yet. And in this context that Justin moved in at the beginning of summer and the Greek intensive happened and Christina’s uber-jealousy of my attention happened and the cheating events of Baylor in Oxford happened and my joy at returning to Christina after such a long break happened and I reinvested in what I knew in my head but not in my heart was a pretty bad relationship. And in this context that Christina and my winter trip to New York so we could find our places in the world fell apart even though I had already bought the tickets, and so I called the airline (American?) asking for a refund but only getting transfer value, and in this context got my ticket to Europe for post-graduation and eventually the idea to visit McKay in New York (fall 2005? spring 2006?) and shop my resume around at publishing houses (utter failure, of course), and in this context that I visited NYU’s evening for their masters in publishing program (marketing focused) and visited Boston to see Emerson’s masters in publishing program (editorial focused), and in this context that I decided to go to Emerson, in which context I got accepted to Emerson’s graduate certificate (rather than master’s) program, in which context I got confused about whether I wanted the masters in publishing program or the MFA, in which context I took a year off to decide and experienced the absolute despair of listless life and a World of Warcraft addiction and opted for the MFA, in which context I’m here to write at all. Ah, life.

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Filed under brainstorming, Writing

Memorial Day 2015 and rolling a natural 1

I’ve cried so much lately, and I don’t know why.

At least, that’s what I tell my wife while I’m crying, that I don’t know why.

I might know why. We might know why. Our most recent move and everything that has accompanied it has entirely overwhelmed me.

**

There was a point at very early in my career where I was given lots of responsibility over a small company’s supply chain. I had very little idea about what I was doing, what I was supposed to be doing, what the company expected me to accomplish, how much the work was supposed to cost, or how much they expected me to spend. I told them during the interview that I wasn’t the right man for the job, but maybe spending an entry-level salary to power a venture that hadn’t proved itself yet seemed like the most frugal course: I was young, resourceful, somewhat knowledgable, and discontent with current industry practices. Anyway, it worked out well.

A metaphor for that early job was that they hired me to tread water in an above-ground pool that had already filled to overflowing from a garden hose. My job was to stop the spillage and drain the pool without turning off the hose. As I treaded water and poked holes in the side (first through process then through building a team to execute the process), someone would sometimes come by and say, “Look, he’s just treading water!” or “Look! He’s just poking holes in the sides of our pool!” But my boss never listened, and I kept at it as best I could, and eventually I had poked enough holes in it that it drained faster than it filled. After three years I stood on the floor, and though the hose kept pumping, the holes kept draining, and with no plans to implement a larger hose or for the holes to seal up, I called my work done and left.

My next role was just as vague and entrepreneurial: the new company had work to do, and it wasn’t getting done, and they needed someone to figure out what work wasn’t getting done, how to get it done, and then to do it. I did that for a while and succeeded at it; I was treading water again, but I’d been in that position before, so I defined and executed a strategy. Just like at the first company, I felt that if I were ever going to drain the pool completely and keep it drained, then I needed a team, but when push came to shove they refused.

Right in the context of their refusal, another offer presented itself that included more responsibility, more money, and the resources to tackle all issues at hand. I took it.

Let it be said that all red flags should be paid attention to for any offer dropping out of the sky: This job’s vagueness isn’t like a vagueness I have solved before; it’s like trying to contain the Ganges in a pint glass. I dove from a platform into and no follow-through about resources or bandwidth to implement change. It didn’t help that there were one or two rock-thrower colleagues, too, who were calling out from the sidelines about how “The pool’s still overflowing, the pool’s still overflowing!” (Note: Nothing makes me so anxious as people calling out my failures in public even when my failures aren’t really failures at all.),

That said, my anxiety may have just have been projection. Yes, colleagues continually asks me to do “better”, though their definitions of the term were always vague at best. Yes, I’m pretty sure I heard annoyance and doubt in my boss’s voice when she mentioned that her boss hoped that I would be able to take over her role in a few months. Yes, I’m pretty sure I saw doubt in my boss’s boss’s face when he looked at me as we passed by each other in the hallway. Yes, I didn’t know how to solve their problems without follow-through on their promise of new resources. Yes, this all made me feel extraordinarily anxious. I don’t know whether it comprised the tapestry I saw in my mind, but I suspect so, and I carried that heavy load of anxiety all the time.

Further, the move (from the East Bay to Marin) was expensive, and we borrowed money from my parents to make it happen, and now we live in this old house (which Ashley adores) with a live-in landlord who seems to dislike everything about us from the fact that we’re alive to the fact that we share a trash can. It’s just another form of oversight, another form of someone looking at me the jeering, and I’m tired of that right now. (Jeering has always been an act with which I have the least tolerance, and my response to it often is to cry. In public. With hot shame.)

On the other hand, our new home is so beautiful that Ashley and I have picked up meditating. Three days now (and I hope for many more to come) we’ve gone out to the patio and listened to her little chimes ding, quieting the whole valley below, and thought quietly for a time. Memorial Day morning felt pretty routine: I breathed in and thought as my wife’s book suggested, “I am in this moment.” I breathed out and thought as the book suggested, “This is a beautiful moment.” I opened or closed my eyes as my instincts suggested. I breathed and thought and breathed and got distracted by work and checked myself and breathed and thought and got distracted by how middle-classy house-wifey my adopted mantra seemed and checked myself and breathed and thought and breathed and thought and watched as Ashley checked the time on her phone and breathed and thought and breathed and listened as she chimed her bells to close the session, and I breathed again. Then a lightly violent buzzing filled my head, and I flinched away to my left, and there to my right was a red-headed hummingbird. And I looked at it in wonder and didn’t want to say anything for fear of scaring it away and didn’t want to look at Ashley to miss it fly away. And I asked her, “Do you see it?” and she said “Yes,” and I turned to look and see if she knew what it was, and she was looking where I’d been looking, and when I turned back it had already flown away. I cried. I got frustrated with myself for crying, and I told Ashley I didn’t know why I was crying, and she consoled me and said it was OK, and then we got up and went inside, and she packed up and left for work, and I worked from home on Memorial Day, and I worked on Memorial Day while attempting to write this piece about why I’m crying.

We began meditating three days ago because I started crying regularly four days ago.

The hummingbird struck me with it’s beauty, and that’s not the first time this neighborhood has met my anxiety with beauty. The other day as Ashley and I left our house to go to work, I began complaining about my new job, and Ashley said that even if I lost the job, she’d rather be bankrupt here than rich anywhere else, and as we broke the topmost step heading from our apartment to our car, we spotted two three-point bucks standing in the private road our house is on, and they looked at us, and we approached them, and they walked away slowly without fear, turning to us on occasion like symbols promising that our lives are protected by providence. They watched us get in our car and drive away to work, and I promptly forgot them in the busyness and stress of the new office, but I remembered them today as I watched the hovering hummingbird, and I felt at peace and protected. And then I got up and got on with my day, and I felt immediately anxious again. And this is the cycle of my days lately.

So I cry due to overwhelming anxiety about the lack of definition and ability to succeed at my new job. I cry due to its burden and having to carry its weight all the time. I cry at the beauty of our new place and the promise it offers that all my anxiety is misplaced. I breathe deep and try to find a sense of peace, and I find it, and then I stand up and immediately lose it. I’m exhausted after only six weeks. I do think I’m sorely in need of a break. But I only got some of a break yesterday, and I’ll only get some of a break today, and work will resume tomorrow.

Hopefully I’ll find a way to manage it all. And if I don’t, my wife will still love me and my parents will still care for me (not that I want to rely on them; I am an adult after all.). But I want to succeed at work and in general, and I want to be considered a success, and I want to protect and care for my wife. I want to be a man of means and of good conscience. I don’t want to sit at a bench and cry like my father did when he got laid off the second time in two years, not knowing how he would provide for his well-provided-for family.

Therefore I somehow find that I need to rediscover myself. I’m not sure how I lost an emotional knowledge of myself along the way, but I’m also pleased by at least one of the surprises I gave myself: The more anxious I become, the more I rely on Ashley and the more I appreciate her. Since the move, I have been drawn to her in a way that I never felt drawn before. She is acting as a support, as a bulwark against the world, as a remind that life is good and the anxiety I have is made by myself. Her support of me is what allows me to cry, is what pushes me to cry. And I love her dearly for that.

In my younger years, whenever I became anxious I would push away those closest to me. This was described to me once as a control issue: If I couldn’t change the thing that was bothering me, then I would change something else just to make me feel like I was improving something. Of course, the net result was usually just a change and not always an improvement, but that’s not the point. Change itself is the point.

There are two particular times I can remember that I participated in this behavior:

Christina and I were having a bad time of it in college. It was our first stint, sophomore year, and we were struggling through finals. Having her around was a distraction for me. (I considered her and masturbation to be significant distractions for years.) For Christmas break, Christina was going back to Houston, where she knew she’d see her ex Billy, and I think she had an instinct that if we didn’t break up she would cheat on me. I had an instinct, too, that I would rather be single in Dallas than attached to some far-away girl, and so between being annoyed at the distraction of her and the binding agreement of her, I took the offer when it appeared.

(Christina did hook up with Billy, she told me later, though I’ll never know whether they were having sex at that point or not, not that it matters much. I suspect so; I suspect she lied to me about her virginity, like so many other topics. What I know is that she told me she was a virgin but that she had no maidenhead and bled none our first time. I think maybe she liked having boys to string along, and she strung him and me along, and we liked it, and we let her.)

(I put a night together for Justin before he left: Ashley Walker was interested in a boy she knew going off to be a man, and Holly Hood joined in for the adventure, so the evening was something like a double date but altogether more exciting. Something about good a Texan Christian girl and me wearing a purple fluffy thong; it was good a good night to be single.)

Also near Christmas, when I moved to Boston in 2006, I was in a very distressing long-distance relationship with Sarah (quiet distress: her ignoring me seemed like an aspect of the long-distance factor of our relationship at the time), attending my night-time courses in Emerson’s Graduate Certificate in Book Publishing, and working another awful, awful, anxiety-riddled job. I left home woke up to the sound of my roommate brushing his teeth and clearing his throat around 6am, and I would shower and take Kalli for her little walk around the property, and then I would leave the house for work and school and not return until 10pm or so, at which point I would jog Kalli to the closest dog park about a mile away, come home and experience the cutting pain of the fascitis I was tempting–sometimes I would lay in bed and massage my foot for a good twenty minutes while moaning in pain–and fall asleep on the phone to a wordless Sarah doing her homework. At some point I broke, and I felt that something had to change, and I called my father and begged him to help me get Kalli back home so I could give her to Steve’s parents, who had offered to keep her rather than me taking her to Boston with me. To my lasting pleasure, such tormented gnashing lead to nothing, and I kept Kalli–her perfection, God rest her soul–to the end of her days. Osteosarcoma, poor thing, my great love.

So there: two times I casted about in distress, and two times I pushed my greatest joys (relevant to the time) away.

I am happy to say that is not my habit today. Today, every ounce of new pressure I feel, the more closely I cling to my wife. I feel compelled to tell her of my love a few times a day, where at other more normalized points in our relationship I was so engaged in my work that I barely gave her a thought except when during breaks. Between boredom at work and Kalli’s death and the pitbulls at home, between busy tourist-filled dirtiness of the city and the barbed wire view from our home, I felt pretty miserable, and I spent more of my time wondering about myself and what I might do than my wife and what I might do for her.

Now, though, I reach out to my wife almost hourly. Also, I call my family weekly, when I have never felt particularly compelled to call them before. I feel guilty with my wife when I change our plans around my work’s demands. I feel guilty with my parents when all I do is talk with them about my job and its issues and my anxiety. Even though this behavior may be entirely selfish from me, it’s different (and less destructive) than how I behaved before, and while I could wallow in the guilt of my selfishness, I’m fascinated by the change in my behavior.

I’m thinking now that instead of just reaching out to my wife with “I love you”s, which I know she adores, I should put more thought and effort into my little messages. That’s another way in which I’ve changed: the amount of effort I spend on courting has never matched the fervent energy I gave to Christina, and like my attempt to offload Kalli, it’s one of the burdens I carry dangling from its hook in my heart.

**

One day in the week following having written this essay, Ashley and I meditated and I prayed to Ganesha to remove obstacles from my path, and I thanked Mount Tam for letting us live in Marin. I then went to the job, and when I sat in my seat, my face flushed, and I began to sweat, and my heart drummed. Then my anxieties were confirmed in full, and I quit within the day. (Thank you, Ganesha. Thank you, thank you, thank you.) One way or another, I was not the man for the job. I feel very fortunate to be able to recognize that and be able to act on the knowledge.

Also, I changed the mantra from Ashley’s book: I now inhale and think “I am in this moment,” and exhale and think “I am of this moment.” Without the primary source of anxiety, meditation comes easier and its effects are less fleeting.

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Filed under Features, Personal essay, Professional ambitions, Writing, YM&S

Christina, a terror deep in my heart

The way that I met Christina was a total fluke, like most of the best things in life are. Sometime in the fall first semester of my sophomore year at Baylor Jennie and I had just broken up, but she was committed to remaining friends (she was still a freshman, and I was her best friend on campus apart from her roommate Rose) and had decided that we and my next door neighbor Jay and his girlfriend Brandy should all go to a movie together. Rose was invited but wouldn’t attend; she didn’t like me very much, or she was busy that night, or both. I dreaded what seemed essentially like a double date, so I began inviting everybody and anybody without any sort of filter.

The person I was most excited about having invited was a guy named Grayson. He was handsome and smart, built like a linebacker and as quick to answer classroom silence (with the correct answer, no less) as me–just the sort of person I’d like to know. We were taking the BIC’s Social World I class together, which meant every Tuesday and Thursday we would meet for an hour and a half in one of Tidwell’s old classrooms, and this was before my switch to the Great Texts program so I was only so acquainted with the building at the time. From outside it had the undeniable look of a phallus with a transept as long as the central tower was tall, meaning it had two bulbous two-story wings skirting a five-floor tower. I believe we would have met in the west wing, second floor.

I asked Grayson to the movie, and he said yes, and I smiled and asked a few of the people around us if they’d like to come too, and Christina said yes. I hadn’t noticed her much before, but she had an easy (if small) smile and straight brown hair draping vibrant brown eyes, and her skin had an almost iridescent glow. I believe she sat behind Grayson a row. I accepted, and she wrote her number on the inside cover of my Republic paperback, and we coordinated.

Of all the people who accepted my movie invitation, only Christina actually attended. She showed up at the doorstep of my shitty, wood-panneled, straight out of the 70s apartment with an awkward smile to spend the evening with a group of people she’d never met before, one of whom was my very recent ex-girlfriend who may or may not have been trying to keep the relationship alive.

We clearly got along, Christina and I, laughing and talking and getting to know each other, mimicking all the movement of a first date in front of Jennie, Jay, and Brandy, who had to content themselves to together playing third wheel. I was so interested in this new person and the sweet sound of her laugh and the softness of her hair that I didn’t pay my friends any mind. After the movie, Jennie went home in a huff–she wouldn’t forgive me for weeks–and Brandy went home at some point, which left just me, Christina, and Jay in my living room getting to know each other.

The movie we had gone to see was The Ring. I had never particularly liked horror–one of my childhood memories is my parents’ second honeymoon, when they left my sister and I at home with a live-in babysitter who made me watch Witches and screamed at me very like a witch every time something scary happened; I also remember the shivering fear I felt during Arachnophobia–so I didn’t pay it much mind at the time except to feel a few jitters under my skin and to act brave in front of this girl I was beginning to desperately want to befriend. Little did I know that I had just bought myself three years of nightmare fodder.

When I woke up on my couch in the morning, Christina and Jay were both gone. I must have fallen asleep while we were all still chatting, and they left me to go to their homes and sleep. I yawned and stretched and prepared to wake up, and then my TV turned on–

To static. Loud white noise filled the room.

I blinked at the TV for a minute and looked around the couch for a remote before remembering I didn’t have one. I squinted at the TV for a moment, remembering next the drowned girl crawling and the water spilling out of TV screens before each murder in The Ring. Ghosts aren’t real, I chided myself. This is just some fluke. I got up and went and turned the TV off, shrugging. I walked to the kitchen wondering whether I had woken up to the TV and its noise. Maybe Jay and Christina had tried to watch some cable and screwed up the TV settings before they left for the evening and just hadn’t turned it off. I shrugged again.

When I cracked open my fridge to grab some breakfast, the white noise filled my apartment again. I poked my head around the corner to see the TV playing static. I squinted suspiciously at the TV again, trying to figure out how it had turned back on. I resolved: I’ll turn off this TV again and stand a few feet back for a minute–in case of groping, ghostly arms looking to pierce me or drag me down to hell–and if it turns back on again, I’m fucking bolting. Fuck whether ghosts aren’t real or not.

So I walked up to it and I turned it off again. I stepped back out of arm’s reach of the TV. I waited.

It turned on. I bolted.

Outside, Christina and Jay had begun to laugh big belly laughs. I heard them before I had opened to door of my apartment. When I got outside, I saw Jay crouched under my living room window with a smart remote in his hand, which he and I had programmed to my TV the week before. Christina looked at me somewhat sheepishly. I suppose from my current vantage she was waiting for my reaction as a sort of social test, to see whether I had a sense of humor or would react violently or whatever she was waiting for. At the time, it seemed like an innocent reaction to their perfectly played prank. I cracked a smile, and I took a deep breath, and I said with a nod, “Good one.” Then we packed up and went to Denny’s.

I had only had one recurring nightmare before: My (unnamed, anonymous) friends were trapped on a docked submarine with a green-faced witch chasing them. I entered the submarine to help them escape, but all I found was the terror of long corridors and outstretched, sharp-nailed hands. I couldn’t help anyone, and the witch pursued me (and my friends?) around the submarine until it left dock, and submerged, and we were all trapped together forever. Sometimes my mother would wake me up before the witch caught me; sometimes I would wake up with a gasp as the hand finally stretched for a grab I couldn’t escape. I dreamt this maybe every few months between eleven and thirteen; I remember it occurred one morning before my family attended a regular Custer Road United Methodist service, and we only attended those for a year or two.

The witch from the submarine never permeated my waking life the way the drowned girl of The Ring came to. I saw her bloated rotting hand every time I closed my eyes in the shower. Sometimes in the dark of night before bed, I could see her silhouetted against the textured plaster of my bedroom. When Christina and I would take one of our cars and drive out into the darkness of a Texas night to kiss and fondle and chat under the stars, sometimes Christina’s straight brown hair would drape around her face to shadow or cover her features, and fear would stab my heart, and I would remind myself to breathe, that I shouldn’t fear a movie, that Christina and I were in love and her kiss and her hand softly resting on my chest was the fuel of my life. After I admitted my fear to her–with a laugh, pure posturing and silliness–Christina would climb on top of me in bed and move her hair into her face and lean over me, and the drape of it would tickle my cheeks, and always I found this electric, though sometimes with endearment and sometimes with fear.

I never dreamed again of the submarine witch. Instead, it became a drowned girl with damp brown hair for a face standing in the expansive lawn of some autumnal manse, brown leaves covering the grass between the road and the half-circle gravel driveway. She would stand there in the lawn and watch me from behind her hair, and I would bask in the utter terror of her presence, and leaves would rustle peacefully around us. Every few months I had that dream, me and The Ring’s ghost standing under fall skies in the lawn of some wealthy house.

Years passed before these dreams broke, before I could close my eyes in the shower without succumbing to a dreadly suspicion and opening my eyes to suds to make sure no girl had appeared in my tub. Still more years had to pass before I could think of Christina outside the scope of sheer dread. I didn’t (and don’t) think of her this way often, but as an introduction: It has been so difficult for my to write about college because behind this funny circumstance is a nugget of terrible truth: I fear that I lost happiness in college, that I sold it for a few tragic months, that I lost my ability to engage and empathize, which had always defined my idealism, itself my defining quality. What shell of a man must I be to lack those things today, and how (or even did I) lost myself so thoroughly along the way?

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing

Snapshot: Ashley and I looking something like adults, circa 2014

We’re looking at Rego Park/Forest Hills/Kew Gardens in Queens, which is one extended neighborhood with Forest Hills definitely being the Queen Bee of the bunch, and at Prospect Park South/Flatbush – Ditmas Park in Brooklyn.
For context, because I felt inspired to write it, and inspiration comes slim these tired days:
Recently, Ashley and I have been arguing about whether we should have a couch in our apartment. To her, a couch is part of the basic definition of a home. To me, we have two big dogs and a cat that pees on couches when it feels threatened, which with two bigs dogs in the house is… often? So we argued, and we go to this point: She is willing to stipulate that everything I’ve said is absolutely correct and a good justification for not having a couch, but she just can’t wrap her mind around it. A home without a couch isn’t a home, period.
So I thought about this some over the last week. I actively refused to go couch shopping with her and told her I might not even help her bring it inside; that’s how set I was against it. She went shopping on her own and considered everything I had said to her against a new couch and managed to get some lightweight modular thing–our (I think) fourth couch in four months–that addressed most of my concerns about moving it and disposability, etc. Bottom line: She’s having a fucking couch in her house, the end.
Well, of course her definition of “home” doesn’t end there. Really, it all reaches back to Florida: Ashley wants a couch because her mom had a couch. Ashley wants a clean home because her mom has a clean home. Ashley wants other things she had as a child in Florida, and she won’t be happy as an adult or potential mother until she has them: particularly, a lawn, a garden, a neighborhood network. (Fortunately, I think, she overlooks a pool and mosquito netting….)
Beyond my own psychological understanding of Ashley as a person, we had all of these things in Savin Hill, our second apartment in Boston, which was the top 2/3s of a two-family home and also represents Ashley’s favorite period of our relationship. I was unemployed and unemployable as an MFA student, and she was working full-time at Mass-General Hospital under an abusive boss and attending an intensive French course at UMass every night, but the summer was gorgeous and we went on bike rides along the beach, and the streets were tree-lined, and the landlord’s father kept a tomato patch in the side garden, and we had Kalli and she was so happy and rein-free, contrasted against the near-constant rein we had to keep on her in Jersey just because we don’t have a lawn or isolated tree-lined streets or convenient access to a beach or all the other Savin Hill perks.
So, being her husband and life-love, I’ve set out to give her those things. I want to give her all the things she wants, even when she doesn’t know how to ask for them. If I have to change cities to do it, then so be it. But maybe, just maybe, these neighborhoods will work for her, or at least buy me another 2-5 years in New York before she’s really over it. All I know for certain is that as nice as Jersey City is for city life, she’s over it, and to be honest, I am, too. I, myself, want to take my leash off and bask in some tree-shade.
​​
Yeah, Historic Downtown is nice. It’s about as nice as you can get and still have what we think of as city life. But I’m just a good old Southern boy, and Ashley is a good old Southern girl, and all we really want is grass under our feet and dirt in our nails and happy dogs. If I can find that in a suburban neighborhood in the city, then I’ll happily give it to Ashley and take it for myself.

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Filed under Personal essay, Writing

How to edit Word attachments from Gmail in Google Drive

I’m a Google advocate. I love Android and Gapps. I love Samsung devices, and ripping off their OEM Android and sideloading custom ROMs. (Here’s looking at you, Carbon!) But there’s one thing I really need Google to get right where they’ve been letting me down, and that’s content drafting. I’ve briefly written about it before, but a recent assistance-request has dredged up the topic again. Here it is, in case it should prove helpful to you:

I downloaded an attachment from Gmail to Drive, and then clicked “Show in Drive”. It opens a tab to view, but I can’t edit the document. Edit is an option in the menu, but I can only highlight text. So I downloaded it to copy and paste a section – any tips? I searched help edit, but nothing applied…in internet explorer; maybe need to reinstall chrome.

Bad Google.

Google Drive can’t actually edit Word documents; it has to convert them into Google Doc format and then re-convert them to Word. You, the user, don’t need to worry about this except insofar as that’s why you can’t edit the saved Word file.

Once you’ve saved the document to Drive and selected “Show in Drive”, instead of clicking on the file name to open it (which will open it in the Google Drive Viewer, a fairly useless app), click the checkmark next to the file name. Then click on the “More” button in the toolbar at the top and select Open With -> Google Docs. This will convert the document to an editable Google doc and save it as a Google doc, so when you go back to your Google Drive list you’ll see two files, the Word file and the Google Doc. You can delete the Word file whenever you want; it will become outdated the moment you edit the Google Doc file.

Make any edits you want to the Google Doc, and when you’re finished, select File -> Download as -> Microsoft Word (.docx). The updated DOCX will download, and you can send that as an attachment in Gmail. You could also share the file through Google Drive, but I’ve found this annoys most Office users.

I hope this helps.

Another option that would avoid having a redundant Word file would be to download the attachments from Gmail to your hard drive and then upload the document from your hard drive to Google Drive. In order to avoid the redundant file, make sure “Convert documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and drawings to the corresponding Google Docs format” is selected. A pop-up with this option should load when you attempt to upload the file(s), but if it does not, navigate from the Google Drive home screen to Settings -> Upload Settings. In this menu, select either “Convert documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and drawings to the corresponding Google Docs format” to convert all uploads automatically or “Confirm settings before each upload” to select each time you upload a new file through the web interface.

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Filed under Technical, Writing

Why anyone can succeed at publishing, or why publishing is failing

Just an abstract scenario, because I don’t want to get anyone (or myself) in trouble:

Publisher owns print rights to backlist title. Publisher does not promote said title, resting on the title either selling well on its own or rotting. Publisher has first dibs at electronic rights, fumbles them with a bad offer. Other publisher secures e-rights by offering a competitive deal. New publisher promotes same backlist title, blows it out of the water. Promoting ebook leads to collateral sales of pbook; also gets mentioned in industry news as a huge success. First publisher gets upset about accidentally succeeding, even to a minimal degree, calls the agent that represents the title, and complains about how first publisher didn’t get the ebook rights.

Yes, this really happened, like right just now, today.

Hint, first publisher: YOU DIDN’T GET THE EBOOK RIGHTS BECAUSE YOU WEREN’T PROMOTING THE TITLE AND DIDN’T OFFER FAIR ROYALTIES. Now quit harassing other people for your bad business practices and get back to work, such as it is.

Also, as a note, the phone call from the agency at your bequest to ask why their title was doing noteworthily well led to new business for us. So thanks, I guess.

**

On all sides, publishers are uncompetitive. They offer bad deals to their producers, pay too much for the internal services they offer to secure those producers, and then can’t figure out how to make peace with their retailers, any retailer. Only one of these facts has been in the news for the last few years, but make no mistake, all three are true.

These facts are the exact crazy-person reasons that makes me think anyone with the slightest business sense can get ahead in this industry, and also, why publishing is going down the shitter.

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Filed under Criticism, Publishing