Tag Archives: family

On how our culture is a cotton gin

The cotton gin was a wonderful device for its time. It mechanized an approximation of human movements, dozens or hundreds of steel fingers ripping away at the cotton the way the cotton seeds had used to rip at the fingers of workers. So close to the actual, its method was only obvious to one man (or a few, maybe; I haven’t done the research and ideas tend to appear in isolated in space but clustered in time), but once he had developed the machine it was easy to replicate, unhindered by a requirement for a particular type of power or any other obvious limitation. Human-powered crank, windmill, watermill, or electricity, it did its job just as it was supposed to, ripping and shredding and providing a small relief from human toil.

When I was younger, in college when all these different ideas buzzed through the air, I championed efficiency, which is the primary mark of why the gin was so successful. Nobody would have much cared if the contraption had only save human tears; the important thing was that it saved human hours. And I, with the few hours of computer science I had taken and my love of video gaming latching me on to the internet revolution, agreed wholeheartedly that efficiency stood chief among our modern virtues: If a social or technological improvement costs someone their job, so be it! That’s the price we pay for our advancement. But, of course, thoughts of this kind can only last until the actual price is met, in this instance until I had or was trying to hold or was even trying to get a job. But, to be fair to myself, the fallacy of my enthusiasm existed and was seen before the final moment.

We have not, at this point in our history, found a more efficient means of facilitating the dreams of the ambitious intelligent youth aside from collecting them together in one place by means of separating them from their home. The metaphor is simple: the ambitious are the seeds and the rest are the cotton, and society separates us with the strong steel fingers of immobile college campuses. As early as seventeen, we’ve already left our parents and our friends in pursuit of success, left behind the plant that fostered us because there is no other choice aside from stagnation and, ultimately, the despair of not fulfilling our potential.

So knit-pick my metaphor: why are the young ambitious the seeds? Why not the cotton? This is a first draft, so there’s no real structural argument to make aside from my instincts, but I’ll tell you this: you only have to be young and ambitious for a moment past college (perhaps for a moment into your junior year, perhaps not even that long), struggling to make a mark and a difference in the world you see, to realize that the world doesn’t care about your struggle. Only the plant that left you cares, and you’ve left them as far behind as you could—in a different town, city, state, country—the only remaining vestige sometimes is a trickling pipeline of money here and there, but their support isn’t a job, isn’t what you need to get by, and no other community has any incentive to build much concern for you. In fact, more often than not they’ll cast you aside, confused at what you want to accomplish by being something other than white and fluffy and immediately employable.

The rest who stayed home are therefore the cotton because as the young ambitious youth is casting about trying to find a place to take root, the others are immediately recognized for their worth and immediately sold for wages. But there’s the argument that the seed will grow cotton itself and will therefore be worth more one day than the others, but what good is that to the seed, especially before it’s even found a niche in which to grow? And what if it never finds a niche? Not all seeds ultimately grow into plants. What good are promises for future prosperity then, to an unfulfilled seed who ended up on only rocky soil and then washed away, never to recover?

My argument here is not that seeds are better than cotton but that the gin-aspect of our society that rips the cotton and the seeds apart is damaging, specifically to the seed. To be young and ambitious is to be alone, forcefully and willfully—that’s the most hideous part—alone while the youth tries his hardest to succeed even when there’s no guarantee of success (especially in the places our American culture puts the young and ambitious: New York, D.C., and Los Angeles, other major cities notwithstanding). My argument is therefore to suggest that we find a way to allow the young and ambitious to stay within the comfort of home and tribe and therefore to have some measure of happiness, for I can guarantee you this from my vantage point: the sadness comprises every reason to quit; it does not contribute (as our cultural assumption would suggest) a single reason to continue.

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Theme Thursday: Fast food

**Special Note**

I have changed the comment settings on NQOKD in order to reduce the number of “anonymous” posts and the need for administrator moderation. If you would prefer to post anonymously, send your post to me via email, facebook, or twitter.

**

In homage to my link of the first In-N-Out in Dallas getting 12 comments where my post about Mark Twain’s finally released autobiography got 1, I’ve decided to let you write about what you OBVIOUSLY want to talk about: Fast food. You loyalties, your disgusting stories, your thoughts. Write them in the comments below.

Guidelines

The only right I assume from you posting a comment is that I am able to host your work on this blog for non-commercial purposes with attribution. You keep all other rights.

I do have plans to attempt to monetize this site once the boulder rolls a little further down hill, but at this point there are NO ASSUMPTIONS OF COMMERCIAL RIGHTS. I will contact authors on an individual basis for any and all commercial purposes.

Make the entries as short or as long as you want, and any genre is fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry. Publish in comments stories, no matter how polished or raw, according to the game of the week. If I like your story, I’ll contact you and ask for permission to remix your work, which I’ll post with the next week’s contest.

You have one week to submit your story, and please, please do. I don’t want this site to be my literary masturbation. Join me, and perhaps get some free editing and mentoring along the way!

The Original:

N/A

The remix:

My sister wrote me a letter where she talked about her relationship. We talk less than once a year, but she wants to correspond, preferably by writing. She’s a firebrand, a fighter; by my theory of personal overcompensation, her focus on peace and the idea of namaste highlights her ability and willingness to fight. Writing keeps things at a distance, helps keep the remove in place. She probably doesn’t like that she’s as prone to fighting as she is; I imagine hysteria itches at the back of her throat at the beginning of any conversation with an intimate, a little prod threatening to bruise if she doesn’t let loose the torrent. And she does, with skill; but still, I think it’s something she dislikes about herself.

She wrote about smoking and how she wants to quit. It’s always a struggle, and it helps to have friends on your side. The kind who want you to quit but will let you do so at your own pace, because really a person can’t do anything other than at their own pace. Even if you want to quit, if someone pulls you along faster than you can go, it builds resentment and entrenches the habit.

But I have a habit that I like but is prone to criticism from those around me, particularly my family and significant others if not my friends in general: I play video games. On occasion, I play them far too much. As a preteen, I would hide myself away in the computer room to play Doom 2 all night. I resented family meals, where (in my memory) my sister hogged all the attention and I only spoke to be told I spoke too loudly. After eating too much, I would go back upstairs and play games until I had to go to bed, sometimes until my father had to come upstairs. I liked videogames, perhaps better than my own life, and my preference has stayed true through some other rough patches.

During my relationship with Sarah, for example, after getting laid off and losing most of the connection that we had shared as friends, I sunk into World of Warcraft, well known as a life-stealing time-suck. But I didn’t have many friends in Boston, and the few I had I lost as I sunk deeper into depression, fueled by being unemployed and unhappy in love. The more depressed I got, the more World of Warcraft I played, which Sarah began to resent as much as I resented her play Solitaire all the time, which worsened the relationship, which depressed me, which had me play more World of Warcraft. Yes, like a snail with its shell, but that’s me. We can’t all be superheroes who handle all of our problems cavalierly and correctly, eeking a smile from all those around us, and I had no idea how to solve the problems of our relationship, and neither did Sarah, and to this day I don’t know whether we tried to salvage it or not. I can list our attempts on my fingers, but their utter lack of effect on the whole debacle tempts me to discount them.

And yet I like this part of myself, the part that can disconnect from what’s going on and have a good time for a little while. It’s not my most noble aspect, but it is a moment utterly human. Constant engagement without break leads to psychosis, and I thank video games and other releases for giving me moments of rest, even moreso on occasion than sleep (I have apnea, have never and never will sleep well).

People who love you will always try to knock those parts of you that they consider weak away because they want you always strong all the time. But people aren’t like that; we have flaws and virtues, and sometimes we have parts of ourselves that are large enough to encompass both. Video games are escapism and an exercise of the mind; procrastination and catharsis. But we are full of moments and forces like that, moments and forces of blessings and curses.

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A Highschool Story: Ms. Young

I don’t often couch stories with extraneous information, but here it seems relevant. If you’re not interested, please continue on to the story, which I feel is just as good without.

My friends know (my family may not) that I loathed Plano with every inch of my being while I was there. It started with the classroom and moved further out to the manicured lawns and streets. My entire sentient life there I spent attempting to leave in one form or another. Not the least reason for my frustration was my consistent poor performance in school.

That’s not to say that I tried really hard and failed. I hardly tried and rarely failed, but I was always looking for something that just didn’t seem to be there. Who knows at this point what it might have been, but as my life has progressed, I think the desire has morphed into a search for a mentor, for somebody to believe in me or perhaps just see me for my potential. Teachers, for all their intentions, seem to me incapable of fulfilling this role. I discuss this more in an article on Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti’s Tant Mieux, but suffice to say that teachers have to concern themselves more with your test scores than your potential out of mere practicality.

Some have argued with me, saying that my English teachers’ collective challenge to my ability could have been applied reverse psychology, hoping to make me shape up by telling me that half-assing it wouldn’t cut it. Perhaps if the fact of my performance in the classroom had been limited to one or two teachers, or even to five, I might agree that it’s possible. However, I nearly failed every English course I ever took in high school, I actually failed the only English course I took in college, and the closest course to an English course in my post-grad work is the closest one in which I came close to receiving less than an A.

Another theory, posed by no one who knows me but one I have to pose just to prove the example, is that I can’t think critically. Since I don’t cover all of the angles to any given topic, I deserve my low grade because it’s symptomatic of half-assed work. Well, my work history in addition to standardized test scores disagree with this theory, and hopefully there’s ample proof on this blog alone that such is not the case.

I posit, therefore, that English teachers simply didn’t understand. They didn’t see the promise in my essays not because it didn’t exist but because their academic dogmatism kept them tied to more traditional approaches (those things very near plagiarism that was call “essays,” as much a violation of intellectual property–even if the owner is long dead–as any basic example of unsolicited remix). Call me arrogant if you want, sure, and empty of promise, but in my opinion, English rooms are sterile and stifling environments that squelch creativity and independent thought. I have no love for them at all and, as soon as I had the choice in my academic career, avoided them to what I consider my benefit.

Of course, what’s happened here is that I’ve moved from loathing Plano and it’s English departments to loathing English teachers in general. Baylor had nothing to do with the PISD, and Emerson College in Boston, MA certainly bears no connection. So what do I do with this leftover rage towards Plano, most of which was tied up in my inability to make my peers there understand either my frustration with them or merely my simplest thoughts, a basic communication dilemma that continues to exist to this day? Well–and fuck you, Mani–I still hate Plano, even if I can forgive it this slight little bit.

**

Though in the English hall and an English classroom or Jasper High School, I chose Creative Writing because Ms. Young sold me its distinct image. Her classroom buzzed with energy because of her youth and zeal; unmarried and unburdened by the relentless years of classroom experience that weather away the beautiful composite face comprised of the students who supply her reason for having chosen education as a career, she’s decided to teach a course no other teacher felt willing to shoulder but which helped Plano appear more well-rounded. I’ve never found diversity (especially of thought) in an English classroom, but I decided to give her new course a shot.

Fifteen minutes before the bell rings, Ms. Young asks everyone to stop writing and requests that someone read the work they had accomplished that day. I look around at all the other students, a few of whom keep their eyes down while others look around like I do; white faces all around. No one looks at Ms. Young while she scans the room, afraid to volunteer by eye contact. She really is quite pretty with her long, thick brown hair and her pale but hopeful eyes. Her mouth hangs slightly open as her head turns from side to side, and her body, red sweater, and brown skirt are motionless. When I look away from her, my eyes land on the inspirational poster on the door about walking in footprints on the beach; I roll my eyes, keep my head down.

Marissa leans over and puts her hand on my shoulder so she can whisper, “You shouldn’t be afraid.”

I don’t turn my head to look at her, but I smirk. “Neither should you.”

“I’m not. I didn’t write anything.” I can imagine her crafty smile, resting lightly upon her pretty but slightly scarred face. She’s allergic to her own sweat, which causes her face to constantly break out. I look over my shoulder to make sure it’s there, pleading with me like I expect.

We chuckle quietly together, and I resign to volunteer. I can’t quite claim an alpha personality, and my decision doesn’t really stem from a desire to save Marissa from potential embarrassment. I feel compelled to end inefficiency in how my class spends its time when the silence drags on vulgarly.

Ms. Young smiles at me while I tremble in front of the class, my nerves suffering under a weird mix of terror and excitement. There’s only twelve students scattered amongst the tables in the classroom. I know everyone in here by name. I shouldn’t feel scared of them.

A wizard stands on a cliff ledge overlooking a village that trusted him for protection. (Already the shaking has subsided.) The flames from the village are strong enough to light his face, scarred more than wrinkled, experienced more than wise. (I forget the classroom; only the page and my scrawl exist.) He has failed them; he wants to shoulder their burden, the weight of his failure measured out by the ashes of burnt homes and the bodies of murdered victims, but finds himself unable. (I am the wizard; no, I am his sorrow and his guilt. No, I am the world he wants to bear. No.) His arms reach towards the stars as he screams out a long, undulating cry to the heavens: “I’m sorry!” (I’d never make it as an actor; I’m suddenly conscious of the other students again.) He leans forwards, finds himself capable after all.

I beam with pride. Students applaud lightly and nervously, not really sure about what they’ve just heard. Marissa smiles, the vain Catholic. The bell rings, and she and the other students bolt. I return to my seat and shove the paper in haphazardly.

“I don’t get it,” says Ms. Young.

I answer her quietly: “I know.” I’m not sure she hears me.

I leave the classroom without discussing the story with her. It wasn’t complicated, or maybe it was, but at any rate my mind had rushed to other subjects than my creation. Ms. Young had implied a request for me to breakdown the story; she had asked for me to treat it like literature and explain it to her. She claimed that she didn’t understand, but could she really not have? I wonder briefly, Can my incomprehensibility cover my life to such an extent as to umbrella every instance of  communication, both the fantastic and the academic?

I leave the carpeted English corridor and emerge over the polished tile of the hallway. In front of me, a metal banister splits the stairway in half. I approach it and rest my right hand on it, looking at the reflection of a florescent light obscured by my head and shoulders, the floor too opaque to show my reflection in detail. The bell rings for class to begin, but I’m lost in thought and not the type of student who frets over punctuality anyway.

English teachers pose literature as my nemesis with their superficial questions and their polite challenges and impolite grading, but I know truth doesn’t reside in rebellion. I don’t want to feel the weight of the world of ideas in my mind or to criticize anyone’s arrangement of words in an educated manner, but not because I don’t enjoy reading or thinking. Actively engaging a story takes away the passive pleasure of reading it, and I’m content with the passive pleasure, aren’t I, the satisfaction of writing, of reading, of thinking abstractly without criticizing specifically? I would have to submit to my formally recognized enemy, my teachers, if I engaged a work actively, wouldn’t I?

I’ve been told that by imposing academic structure on my mind, I will broaden my understanding of the world and multiply the number of subjects I can ponder. But the fact of the matter is—as I prove when I sit in the reigning creative silence of Ms. Young’s room—that I can hardly get my mind to shut up. The last thing I need from it is coherent categorical thoughts.

I utter words and phrases that apparently only I can understand. I formulate ideas that only I can stomach, only my tongue decipher. I’m not convinced that educating myself in the manner my teachers have suggested will help them understand me. Not only do I doubt their conjectures, I feel almost certain they are wrong.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Criticism, Fiction, Humanistic, Writing

Theme Thursday: A seasonal affair

In some ways, projects mirror conversation. In particular, if you put your hands on either in an attempt to force it to go your way, you will most certainly fail. Words may be said, items may get checked, but in the end either your partner or your underling will resent you, breaking the human connection of conversation and productivity, respectively.

The temptation the first week was to beg people I know to contribute, which I largely avoided. (Should the admission that I didn’t wholly avoid it embarrass me, here? Probably not.) The temptation the second week was to fear that I had made the game too hard by raising the bar a notch.

I want to promote this project. I don’t want to constrain friends and fans. I want people to contribute, but I don’t want them to feel compelled to do so. These Theme Thursdays should be games, should be fun! And we’re (here in the north hemisphere) wrapping up our summer, which means it’s prime time for fun!

Therefore, a broad and unrestrained topic, rich in both memory and metaphor:

This week’s theme: Summer

Have fun. 🙂 Remember, all forms of narrative are fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry, along with photos.

Guidelines

The only right I assume from you posting a comment is that I am able to host your work on this blog for non-commercial purposes with attribution. You keep all other rights.

I do have plans to attempt to monetize this site once the boulder rolls a little further down hill, but at this point there are NO ASSUMPTIONS OF COMMERCIAL RIGHTS. I will contact authors on an individual basis for any and all commercial purposes.

Make the entries as short or as long as you want, and any genre is fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry. Publish in comments stories, no matter how polished or raw, according to the game of the week. If I like your story, I’ll contact you and ask for permission to remix your work, which I’ll post with the next week’s contest.

You have one week to submit your story, and please, please do. I don’t want this site to be my literary masturbation. Join me, and perhaps get some free editing and mentoring along the way!

**

Now for the first remixing of my chosen story from the game two weeks ago (one week for them to write the comment, one week for me to write the remix). The new piece is entirely fiction and not fed by the author except by the original post. Here goes!

The original (authored by Claire):

My mother is the kitchen, her smooth edges and pillowy white skin, soft and yielding and warm. The kitchen is sensuality in form of mother-love, my youth and my upbringing, my salty tears boiling over, my dishpan hands longing to be held.

When I miss my mother, I go to my kitchen. I make tea, the whistling kettle becoming her voice, the steam her fingers on my own. I fix it the way she likes it, orange pekoe, condensed milk, only I slip in two teaspoons of white sugar, the colour of her inner arms. She’d cringe at the sacrilege, but I need the sweetness of her words to cut the harshness of her reality when she impresses upon me to sit up, to buck up, to not feel so sorry for myself, to not sit alone and cry, to be proctive! to smile! to make friends!

But I feel sorry for myself in the kitchen. I cower with mug in hand and stare into the murky liquid that is only the colour of tea and let it wash over me, warmth, comfort, soft, yielding. My mother. My kitchen. me.

The remix:

“Smile,” she says to me. “You wouldn’t have it so bad if you made some friends.” Her voice is harsh but falsely polished, like the linoleum floor. It reflects light sure enough, but it makes the incandescent bulb look cooly flourescent. “Smile, God damnit!” I close my eyes and lick my lips. My toes curl as my head sinks, chin falling to my breasts. “God damnit,” she sighs, turning back to her cutting board.

Her knife moves fluidly like quicksilver. You wouldn’t know it was steel if you hadn’t felt its cut. I can feel her eyes flicking between what she’s doing and her peripheral so she might see if I’ve regained my composure. I think she takes pleasure in breaking me down; she doesn’t bother insulting me if I’m visibly subdued.

Her teeth grind. “Smile.” The word hurtles her mouth quietly, like a sand storm. It corrodes my skin, could cut to the bone. Her voice recognizes no armor. I am nude in front of it and damaged in its wake.

Said. “Smile,” she said. My head shakes of its own accord, my hair shaking loosely like horsemane, and my eyes open to a different kitchen. My kitchen, suburban, with the bright windows and the pink marble countertops. Light in my mother’s house always seemed filtered; here it feels so clean. There it seemed dirty; here, sterile.

I can’t tell if this is helping, this psychological experiment of mine. I escaped my mother so long ago, but I want to remember her without the childhood fear. I make the tea, orange pekoe with condensed milk, just like she has it in my nightmares. The smell doesn’t bring back anything definite, but my muscles tense, making my head fall to my chest and my eyes close. I bear all the same reactions from my childhood. A friend called it emotional regression, but I like to think I’m moving forward.

She is my mother. I want to remember her without fear. I want to connect the encouragement I see now that she was giving me with those words from my memories. Make friends had sounded so cruel, nearly impossible, nearly a curse. What if I had made friends? Would I have heard her the same way?

No, that’s not where I want to go. I relax my muscles and let my head fall back so that I’m looking at the ceiling. I breathe, deeply. As I exhale, my chin falls to my chest again, and the tea kettle whistles in earnest.

She grabs the handle violently as I’ve felt her grab my write. That tight grip would’ve left bruises on me, still might. Hot water falls freely from the spout, filling her cup, which already contains the milk and the leaves. I look away, try not to imagine the difference in threshold between her sulfuric grip and the burns of hot water.

“Sit up,” she hisses, her voice only softly carried by the breath. “Your cringing makes me sick.” My eyes close again and my head jitters, a small flinch as I picture her dousing me in that steaming-hot tea, hitting me right in the vulnerable spot of neck exposed to her. The burn would turn my neck red, making my soft, untanned skin different from her ivory near-white. How I yearn to be different from her; give me the burns! I could scream it!

When I feel myself near tears with begging, I open my eyes, and her nose is mere inches from my cheek, cup poised to spill. “Sit up, stop cringing, and smile. You’re not making any friends over how cruel mommy abuses you at home.”

I hear the garage door open, and I’m back in suburbia. Shivers crawl down my body, and I touch the spot on my neck that mere moments before I had silently begged my long-dead mother to purge from my fair flesh. I feel the muscles loosen under my practiced fingers, grateful for their salvation. My husband, when he comes in, will ask me why I made the tea again. He’ll be angry, but I’ll tell him the memories are getting better. I can do this; I can overcome.

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A freelancer’s beginning

On August 24, 2006, Emerson College sent me a letter asking me to take part in their Graduate Certificate in Book Publishing. They had denied my application to their Masters of Arts in Book Publishing but judged that I would fit in with their certificate program. I saw the program as a distinct end to my post-college unemployment, my living off near-to-minimum wage in combination with parents’ gratuity while I tried to find my place in the world. Hell, the program could define my place.

Also, I had wanted to leave Texas since I was a child and had made many frustrated attempts throughout my life. I was determined that my exodus to graduate school would not be denied, however.

When I received the news, I shouted, actually screamed for the joy of it. I called my mother and father, who had not been home when I opened the letter. I called Justin and Steve, two of my high school friends I still kept in touch with. I called Sarah and told her all about it, told her about how this meant no more jobs at coffee shops and no more crying about the worthlessness of Texas. I told her that this meant everything would be all right.

It wasn’t until later, when she had asked me if I would come to Waco for her birthday or if I wanted her to come to Dallas, that I realized this meant leaving her. In hindsight, it’s strange to think that neither of us recognized that immediately. But Emerson started on September 12 that year. I had to get up to Boston somehow with at least my clothes and Kallion, my dog.

How does one completely disassemble their life and relocate to Boston within two weeks of receiving the news that he could go if he wanted? I mean, I didn’t have to accept Emerson’s invitation. I could’ve stayed in Dallas, living in Steve’s parents’ house and working at Starbucks while I scrounged for gainful employment unsuccessfully, resisting Sarah’s insincere invitations to move in with her back at Baylor instead.

My parents had kicked me out after six months because my dog sheds a ridiculous amount. Part Husky and part German Shepherd, she sheds year round, her short coat when it’s hot and her long coat when it’s cold (Texas only has two seasons, hot and cold.). They asked me to keep her outside all of the time, even when I was home and when I was asleep. But I sleep with Kalli in my bed. She lies on the couch next to me when I write. She loves me and trusts me, and all in all I’m more of a parent than an owner to her. I would no sooner leave my four-year-old child outside all day, and I flatly refused. So away I went, and I took my dog with me.

My parents had hoped that kicking me out would give me the spark I needed to find a job, as if my unemployment had come by choice rather than circumstance. My Bachelor of Arts in Great Texts of the Western Tradition, while being a great conversation starter (General response to hearing it is, “What?” Never “Huh?” always “What?”), looks worthless on a resume. I also listed the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, which–despite how it’s sold to freshman–no one actually cares about outside of a collegiate environment. I had zero office skills, zero contacts worth pursuing, and zero prospects. Hence, I put my college degree to work at Starbucks.

Dallas is a tech city, and I am not a techie. While I’m fascinated with computers and video games to a point where I know computer languages simply to make me a better player, I couldn’t finish a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at Baylor. Dallas has almost no art scene and actually no writing scene, and I stood out like a sore thumb among the resumes of my more technically proficient colleagues.

The one job interview I received was for a proofreading and copywriting position at a young health insurance company, and I misspelled guarantee in a sample they had me write on the spot. They caught it; they questioned my proofreading skills over it (fairly), and that was the end of the interview.

I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, and Concise Rules of APA Style. I was determined to find freelance work by cold contacting companies and just asking. They can’t reject you until you ask, after all.

I found two freelancing gigs through Gmail, Google.com’s email service. As one by one my cover letters to Dallas companies found their way back as rejections, the language used in the conversations prompted Google’s adbot to list a series of self-publication and editorial companies for amateur authors. A light went on in my head.

ProofreadNOW.com had taken me on staff because the owner, Phil, had a daughter attending Baylor when I contacted him. I told him that I had no proofreading experience and that I was still browsing the style guides I had bought with minimal understanding. He took me on anyway. After two months he fired me, saying that my proofreading skills weren’t par with their expectations.

A-1 Editing responded to my query with an editorial test. I completed the reading section with some light proofreading and editorial queries, and apparently my effort pleased the owner, Nicole. She sent the first manuscript about a month afterwards. I worked on it slowly and carefully, attempting to maintain my good first impression. I returned the manuscript to her on deadline and promptly received another.

Nicole wrote one of my letters of recommendation to Emerson, one of the few tokens of proof that I had some experience in publishing. My acceptance into the certificate program probably rested largely on her merit alone. She lifted me out of unemployment and creative stagnation, a shift in my life for which I’ll never quite be able to repay her.

All I had to show for one year out of college in Texas was Starbucks and two freelancing gigs, one a failure and the other a success. My parents had kicked me out of their house. I couldn’t afford to move out of Steve’s parents’ house because my Starbucks wages only covered my credit card minimums, car payments, and student loans, not all of which had come out of their grace period yet. Unemployed, broke, and homeless with my dog in tow, I could’ve stayed.

I still can’t explain how I fit all of my most important possessions in my little two-door 2000 Honda Accord. I knew how to break the computer chair down with hex keys, but even in its component parts the base of the chair, a five-point plastic star with a wheel on each leg, never quite fit anywhere. I ended up shoving it into the floorboard in front of the passenger seat. Kalli took the passenger seat herself, eyeing the base distrustfully. Three heavy, book-filled boxes took the back seat and rested on a comforter and a few bedspreads to protect the leather. In the trunk, my computer (but not a monitor) sat next to the space heater and my one bag of clothes.

The whole time I packed, alone over the boxes and still more alone carting the heavy items to the car, I kept asking myself how it was going to work. How could I, broke and alone and afraid, make it to Boston? I had $700 to my name, which included my last check from Starbucks (Stephanie had gotten corporate to print it early so that I wouldn’t have to have them send it to me later on.). How could the next few days of my life play out successfully? How would fate find yet one more way to bring me back to Plano, dejected and frustrated?

I determined that while I wasn’t sure about a single moment in the rest of my life, I was sure as hell gonna head to Boston and find out.

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A Relationship in Presents, Part Four: The waffle press redux

No apologies for the late post. Muaha.

**

Near hysteria, I plod through my parents’ attic. I can tell I’m losing it, that I’m on the verge of tears. My mother calls up the stairs wanting to know what the hell is going on. My father doesn’t know what to say.

“I’m looking for the waffle iron,” I say. I choke up. I’ve thrown boxes helter-skelter across the attic. I’ve taken out the box with all my college kitchen stuff out of the attic and emptied it of its contents all the way down to the newspaper coating the bottom in the TV room. It was the dishes clanking together as I unconcernedly scattered them across the floor that really set my mom off; Dad had watched silently, confused and almost afraid.

“Where is it?” I yell, hurting my throat. The closer I get to tears, the more obviously I glottal.

“We don’t know,” my father answers. They haven’t taken it out of my boxes, they say. They’ve been on a no-carb diet for months, maybe years, and even if they were going to eat something like that, my father would make pancakes; they haven’t had waffles in years.

I can’t have left it behind, I say to myself and aloud accusatorially, but the finger is pointing at me despite my parents’ premonitions. I can’t have left it behind! I remember taking it out of the kitchen and putting it in the fucking box, don’t I? Of course I remember doing it! It’s fucking ridiculous to think I’d’ve left it behind.

Gabe wouldn’t have taken it, would he? I remember that day he cooked with my garlic clove and wouldn’t fess up to it. When he…. Oh, this line of thought isn’t going anywhere; Gabe didn’t take it. Justin wouldn’t’ve taken it. I either brought it home or I left it at Baylor. And I didn’t leave it behind, so it’s here, somewhere.

I rip through the boxes again, even when my mother’s anger becomes tinted with fear. “It’s just a waffle iron,” she says. “You can buy another one and she’ll never know.” But it’s not Sarah’s opinion of me I’m worried about, though I certainly wouldn’t want to confess to her that I’d lost it; No, I want it for myself. I want the waffle maker, that one fucking thing, and I fucking lost it!

I tear down the stairs like a shot, leaving my parents to stare over the mess. I hear my mother say in a very loud note of command, “Oh no!” once she hears her pots and pans clanging out onto the floor. She moves into the living room and calls me in there as if I were her dog, and I obey.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asks incredulously.

“I’m looking for the god damned waffle maker!” I shout. A tear falls down my left cheek, and she sees it.

“Why does it matter so much?” she asks.

“’Cuz she….” My voice trails off, dead. My brain stops for a moment, and more tears fall. “’Cuz she gave it to me,” I finally answer, turning to go back into the kitchen.

“Well we don’t have it!” she calls after me even though there’s not even a wall separating us. “It’s not in our kitchen! And you’ll have to clean up whatever you take out!”

I’m not worried about threats of cleanliness, though. All that matters is recovering the waffle press. She gave it to me so long ago, before we were even dating, and it’s all falling apart, falling away. I have to find it. If I can find it, everything will be alright, will be okay again.

I pull out all the pots and pans in the cabinets under the silverware, set them out on the tile. I look under the stove on the island, but there’s nothing except grilling equipment. I look under coffee maker, under the sink, in all the miscellaneous drawers and cabinets. Nothing, nothing, nothing! Where the fuck is it? my voice screams inside my head, echoing through my brain as if it were a stone valley, causing an avalanche of sanity, a loss of control.

My tears fall in earnest, now. I can barely see the objects my hands put aside, only dimly aware that each one isn’t what I’m looking for. I start to move towards the oven, to the drawer underneath it. My parents keep ovenware in there, stones and oven proof pots and my father’s electric… electric skillet.

I slow down in my stride. My eyes flicker in and out of squinting as the pieces move into place, the memory resurfaces of making my parents waffles while waiting to leave for Europe, my mother asking me how I clean the surface since we can’t put it in the dishwasher, her balking expression when I tell her that I don’t, that I don’t clean it.

The drawer glides along the wheels that hold it up as I pull it open. I see it immediately, behind a stone basin made to cook a turkey and on top of my father’s electric skillet. They haven’t had waffles in years, he said; it’s been years since I made them wafflecakes, panwaffles, panfles. The press isn’t Belgian, no, it only makes small dimples in the pancakes. The last time my parents had waffles was when I made them some on Sarah’s press after I came home from college.

Don’t call it my press, Sarah always said to me when I referred to her presents as hers. I told her that I called them her presents because they were so obviously from her, so perfect and timeless. Sarah’s press. I found it under the oven.

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A Relationship in Presents, Part Two: Italy, the country of lovers

To those of you who are subscribed via any service except email: I did something exceedingly foolish and changed the feedburner URL, which probably ruined your subscription. Subscribe again to solve this problem. Sorry for the inconvenience.

**

This series explores style in addition to memory and basic aesthetics. I encourage you, for your own fun, to compare this piece with the previous part and to define for yourself the differences and how they affect the writing and the reading, and to continue the experiment for the upcoming parts.

Remember to contribute to this week’s Themed Thursday. I’m really excited to see what other posts crop up! 🙂

**

Sarah and I walked through Europe hand in hand. Originally I had traveled with my sister, but she and I had been estranged for years, and isolating ourselves from our parents in Europe didn’t seem to help whether we got along or not. Beth and I split ways at first when she went to Amsterdam; I went to London to pick Sarah up. We met back up in Paris and tried to make things work, but we weren’t friends, weren’t friendly, and when we were preparing to leave Avignon, Beth split, leaving Sarah and I alone.

We had been friends all through college, one of those friendships where people ask, “So when are you two getting married?” They ask all the time, always with the same rising hysterical note where you can tell they know they’re being assholes but they ask it anyway, like it’s a joke, like either of us might find it funny. But really they’re just assholes, and no, we’re never getting married, thanks. We’re not even dating.

Most of my junior year, her freshman, she dated my friend Steve who had crashed on my couch, and I went pretty steady with this girl Christina. Nobody questioned why Sarah and Steve were together except when they saw how hard she’d hit him and how well Steve put up with it. Everyone questioned why Christina and I were together, ranging on topics from how much we fought to how much time we spent together. Sarah and Steve didn’t last the year; Christina and I did but eventually broke up December of my senior year.

Sarah, like a few others, asked, not in so many words, whether we could get together now that Christina and I had split. But I had loved her like a tree with ivy, like flesh holds onto a scab, and the sap or the blood still dripped fresh from the wound when they asked me, and I protected my open sore.

Unlike the others who asked whether we could finally get together, Sarah heard an invitation to Europe with me after I graduated. Can we date? she would ask, and I’d say no. Can we go to Europe together? I’d follow up with, and she’d ask me Can we date? Five months passed with a few other conversations to supplement this recurring one.

The three-day graduation party came and went. On the second night, I slept on a couch with Sarah because the other girl chasing me had fallen asleep already. It reminded me of the night two years before when I had thrown an end-of-year bash and fallen asleep on the floor with Holly rather than take my chances with Sydney. In resentment, Sydney had gone into the bathroom, claiming to snort coke. This one, however, simply went outside and drove home at four in the morning.

I packed up most of my stuff in the apartment and went back to Dallas for the month of May, spending time with my parents before I left for Europe. I spoke with Justin during the day about how he needed me to go back to Waco and get the rest of my shit out of the apartment and with Sarah nightly about how I’d like for her to come to Europe with me. Her refusal had changed from whether we could date or not to whether her parents would let her come or not, so I began to press a little harder those last few weeks, with no luck.

The last day before I left I spent packing my oversized duffle bag and backpack: clothes, toiletries, iPod, books, Woolite so I could wash my clothes on the go. I spoke with Sarah one last time. She had gone home to Houston for the summer, spending time with her old high school friends and, regretfully, with her parents. I listened to her complain for a while and asked her if she wouldn’t rather come to Europe with me rather than waste away her summer there. She answered that she would, agreeing finally and at the last minute to come. I laughed at her. I didn’t believe she would come.

We got off the phone soon thereafter. I flew into Paris with my sister, and on the second day received a note from my father that Sarah had called and said she would land in London after a week. Beth made her plans to go to Amsterdam, and I rode the train to Calais, took a ferry to Dover, and rode the train the rest of the way to save myself a little cash. I left my hostel that morning, met Sarah at the airport all smiles and surprised cheer, and took her to the bed and breakfast I had reserved for us.

I showed her London as best I could in the two days we had before we met up again with my sister in Paris; Sarah and I rode the train all the way, business class. Together, the three of us saw Chartres and then Tours and the surrounding cities; we rode the train to Avignon, and Sarah and I went to Marsellies while my sister wrote us a goodbye note; we went to Dijon where we had sex for the first time and then down to Florence. I bought Virgil’s opera in latin, the book itself bound together before America declared independence. I couldn’t afford the Boccaccio that I also wanted and left a little sad. Sarah turned me around on the street and bought that gilded Decameron, and the store sent them to my parents’ house in the same box.

We took a day trip from Florence to Milan, and at the Galleries Lafayette, she offered to buy another Mont Blanc pen since I liked my first one so much, an offer I felt guilty about almost accepting. Then we traveled to Rome and then Ravenna, where I bought her a brand new dress that was just a little too long for her, a beautiful blue arrangement with an ornate flower on the waist. The sex was already beginning to lose its charm, but I didn’t say anything. From there she talked me into spending a day in Venice, a place I refused to go not because I didn’t imagine it as beautiful but because I couldn’t afford it. She bought me a glass statuette of lovers dusted with gold flecks.

Paris took us in for a few days after Italy, and we saw several closed museums. We went back to London and then to Derbyshire to stay with Kiran, an old high school friend of mine. Rita, Kiran’s mom, asked me whether she were the one, and I answered I dunno. How am I supposed to know? No, she’s probably not. And Rita smiled at me, told me that youth was meant for fun and that I’d know with someone, that David had known with her and had been right. Not that she had known David was the one; she fought and resisted his advances until one day she gave in, but David had known that she was his one.

When we went back to Texas, Sarah told our friends we were dating. I said we weren’t. She didn’t talk to me for months, not until I invited her to Devin’s wedding, after which I would become jealous of her physicality and tell her that I couldn’t stand the idea of her being with anyone else. I’d ask her to dedicate herself to me, and she’d ask if that meant we were together, and I’d, resigned, say yes—finally, some would say; inevitably, others.

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