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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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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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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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 Tags Customers Associate with This Product

The “tags” that appear on Amazon product pages are user-generated tags and can be as helpful or spiteful as any user comment. Publishers and individual authors have no control over what tags customers associate with any given product.

The best practice one can do, if one is so inclined, is to navigate to the “Tags Customers Associate with This Product” section of the page and select ONLY the tags that are true or beneficial. This will weigh the selected tags heavier against the malicious tags.

To be frank, if this were going to have any significant impact one way or another, it would require thousands of selections instead of ones or dozens, and recommending this course of action to your authors would probably help them to feel more in control but otherwise waste their time. In fact, the most memorable use of this feature was to flag books as “DRMd” or “DRM-free” to help tech-savvy customers make purchases that reflect their ethical values. People do still flag products this way, but I haven’t known a massive push on this front for years. This makes me feel relatively certain that the impact of user-generated tags on search functionality and product discoverability is minimal.

These user-generated tags are in no way related to the tags publishers associate with their products at submission, which will always play the primary role in search functionality and product discovery. It is likely that your publisher has either good or good enough practices in place for their own distributions, but you may always query your editor about what metadata they’re associating with your book. Like most decisions, however, I would not recommend using your marketing instincts to try any correct their decisions; instead, consult with someone who knows about SEO before reacting to your publisher’s information. Being informed instead of reactive will help everyone involved.


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The fate of indices in an ebook world

Indices are a problem across ebooks. Page numbers are no longer relevant in a digital space, which in itself makes 90% of an index immediately useless. To address this problem in books with simple indices (one page reference per item), publishers sometimes delete the page number and attempt to link the item to its corresponding reference (links being the digital equivalent to page numbers: faster, but not smarter). Creating these links is manual work that is both expensive and prone to error.

The more complicated the index, the more complicated the solutions to translate it for digital use. For example, the indices often contain multiple page references per item. Should publishers keep the page numbers as a means of having individual items to link to each particular reference, knowing that page numbers no longer apply? Regardless of what solution is reached here, since the linking is manual work, the more complicated the task becomes, the more expensive and the more prone to error the task becomes.

To be honest, of course, creating a digital index is not any more manual or prone to labor than creating a physical index, but digital publishing, though booming, is nowhere near the point of paying the sums of money that index experts (fairly) demand, and the basic reading experience that current devices aim for actually preempt putting anything close to this effort into a product. (Tablet publishing is another beast, perhaps to come to bear, but perhaps not, consider my solution below.) Therefore, we rely on the same companies to whom we outsource our digitization work, which itself even poses problems in titles that contain only narrative text and share the same escalating problems of complexity.

To respond to the index problem, I recommend implementing a solution to aggressively remove all indices from all titles. You may not feel like this is a perfect solution for your books, but let me offer the primary positive reason for which we made this decision.

All ebook readers (devices, apps, and other instances) have search functionality. Readers will have varying comfort levels searching for important terms, trained by their use of Google and other search engines. The solution is not perfect but is actually more likely to return what the user was looking for than an index, especially when you consider the human error that goes into making the digital index.

The ability to search for relevant terms is synonymous with a level of comfort with technology assumed in owning an e-reading device and provides an opportunity to improve reader experience without notifying them that a more frustrating option (a digital index) could also have been available.

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Filed under Criticism, Publishing

Thoughts on the 99%: A little narrative about overthrow

Occupy Wall Street is happening in my back yard. I’ve been down to offer a warm body and moral support a few times, but I’m not what I’d call involved in the movement. I post news stories and pictures to Facebook and sometimes Twitter, trying to help get the word out, but I’m pretty sure my social base is largely impatient with the idea in general, not to mention hesitant about protesters altogether.

I also follow the blog Information is Beautiful regularly. Everything they do fascinates me, and their presentations go beyond beautiful: they are always interesting and usually helpful, even if only in a very minute sense.

These two threads joined today when Information is Beautiful posted via BusinessInsider.comCHARTS: Here’s What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About… I knew most of the narrative, but I didn’t know most of the information as specifically as they listed it, so I was happy to see it and shared it with a friend and my social networks. But it also made me sick to my stomach with anger, one of the reasons I’m sympathetic towards and participate (even as distantly as I do) in OWS: something is wrong, and the numbers communicate it, and there’s a narrative to the numbers, so not knowing really is about not looking at this point.

So I tried to communicate this with my girlfriend, which may have lead to her asking why I’m so bent out of shape about it, which might have lead to a conversation that included my saying, “That’s like saying Hitler’s Germans didn’t know about the Holocaust.” Hyperboles aside, she later asked me, “So why don’t you participate?” Which is a really good question, to which I only have a really bad answer: I don’t know what to say. But not knowing what to say usually only occurs because one hasn’t tried yet to say anything.

Well. Then. Here’s attempt #1.


A new kid arrives at the playground one day and sees all the children playing. Cliques are already formed, and in the corner is a lonely giant trying to catch a grasshopper. The new kid surveys the social groups, picks one for his own reasons, and begins to socialize with all the others. He builds some clout over the next weeks or months until he feels like trying to double-down on his status: he begins to pick on the first group he noticed, using all of his observations to grief and nitpick them until all of the other cliques form into an anti-that-group clique. Then everybody except that group belongs to the new kid; he even befriends the stupid giant in the corner and courts him as a strongman.

But that’s not overthrow, except maybe from nature to structure; that’s normal political functioning. Overthrow comes after the new kid has gotten his clout to mature into something substantive. It’s at this point he defines another anti-that-group group, allowing the first disenfranchised to re-enter the social circle at the expense of another. But this is the only way to collect all of the pawns: to rotate hatred from one group to another to another and so on ad infinitum.

One day the new kid realizes that if he just sacrifices the stupid giant so that he’s always the enemy, he can keep the other social groups all the time, whose social capital is always greater. And so he begins an escalating assault upon the stupid kid in the corner, because everyday the jeers from before lose a little luster, and every day things have to become a little more intense to maintain the feeling of realness. So the big kid stays in his corner, lonely and feeling utterly stupid and without power. He searches for more grasshoppers to pass the time.

But one day the jeers aren’t just jeers anymore. Once, another kid worked up the courage to kick at the stupid giant as he passed, and everyone laughed but no one pointed fingers. And another day, another kid slapped the giant upon the head, and everyone leered with little tight smiles. And these little cruelties continued; the students broke the playground rules in order to solidify their moral alienation of the giant. They increased until the giant was too dejected to even look for grasshoppers anymore. He just sat there in the corner wondering how he had gone from being alone to being so lonely.

And then the real escalation began: The new kid began to hit the giant, too. Before, the new kid had refrained for fear of retaliation, but seeing everyone else do it without so much as getting a swing thrown back at them, he finally worked up the brass. Except once he felt he had implicit permission from the group, he could sanction in his own mind the worst tactics. Instead of a poorly aimed kick here and there, the new kid aimed for the giants knees or kidneys or stomach, always looking to hurt in addition to breaking the rules. He began to throw a pinch or a bite into every attack, just for a little humiliation to spice his enjoyment. But the other kids were watching, and seeing this kind of broke some of their hearts, for though they could agree to alienate the giant and hate him, they still remembered when he was one of them and kind of loved him, and felt his alienation as a kind of participation in them. If this progression continued, though, they may not be able to count him as a friend, even a bad one.

So it came to pass that some of the children felt bad for the giant, and they stopped hitting him and teasing him. Instead, they offered a kind word here or there. Others said that the giant deserved what he was getting and continued to attack him and increased their viciousness to match their leader, the once-new kid. The giant didn’t understand any of it, and he didn’t try to; he just sat in the corner, wondering when the next hit might come but smiling at a few of the nicer children every now and again.

One day, the once-new kid and his little gang attacked the giant all at once. They pushed him to the ground and started kicking him, and he cried and asked them to stop but they didn’t. The other children began to complain, saying that this had gone too far, but the once-new kid’s gang was in the moment, animal, and they wouldn’t let it go until they had to. One of the others threw a rock and hit the once-new kid in the head, and he fell on top of the giant, and there was blood. The once-new kid staggered to his feet, tried to guess which one had been brave enough to throw the stone, and lunged for an attack.

Which, of course, was when the giant finally acted. He grabbed the once-new kid by the ankle so that he fell chin-first into the gravel. The giant climbed on top of the once-new kid and waited for the cue: either the new kid would go slack, or he would struggle. The first meant the fight was already over, the second that it had to be finished.


I apologize if it’s first-draftiness obscures any of what I meant to say but will say that I view all politics through the lens of this allegory. Those in control will abuse those not in control up to and including the point where revolution tips from possible to likely to happening. Whether or not those in control recognize the tipping point or can even summon the opposite force to negate the momentum before reaching no-return is decided historical moment to historical moment. I base this understanding of historical turmoil on an intense reading of history’s literature and a light education of world history.

On another note, if you’ve read this far and are still interested, I thought I’d share with you that I thought about the 99% before it was cool: Here’s a post I wrote about the problem of profit.

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Filed under Fiction, Writing