Tag Archives: parents

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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Filed under Criticism, Features, Humanistic, Personal essay, Theme Thursdays, 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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Author: Greg Freed

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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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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Presents, Writing

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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Author: Greg Freed

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A Societal Yearning: Masculine friendship and community

Your first reaction, depending on who you are, may be feminist outrage. I urge you to recognize your disagreement, put it away, and then take a deeper look. That said, Amos gets even the introductory exposition to this blog post. Take it away, Amos:

I’ve spent a good deal of time in the last four years considering the value of, and the fragility of, simple male friendship.

I say “simple” friendship because family and partners can maintain a separate and vital status in a person’s life. We’re stuck with the family we’re born into or bear; and divorce, while easy, is not as easy as it could be.

I say “male” friendship because it seems to me that women are, in ways, built more readily for deep bonding with their peers. My sense is that it’s more of an inherent thing, something genetic, but as always with the nature versus nurture question, the answer ends up being “well, some of both.” I haven’t lived as both a man and a woman though, so I can’t be sure. The general roles that evolution has put men and women into (which can be broken or tweaked just fine by a careful society, when needed) lean men at least slightly away from the deep bonding that women seem wired for through.

Male relationships often seem to drift toward (and prefer proximity to) superficiality, fun, and beer. Special people can be special exceptions, but beyond small grace periods, those precepts are broken at the masculine peril of expendability. And stray from the precepts knowing that, in order to call attention to your rule breaking and rescue the friendship, many men would have to become rule breakers too.

And that, rarely, are they willing to do.

Primal hunting and the life-or-death dependence of the military are some things that seem to break this tendency. They seem to tie men together on a deep and emotional level forbidden by our time-constrained lifestyles that offer a million fun replacements for things that displease. What more naturally binds women together seems to more readily remain in the lives we’ve all fallen into.

I always think of the scene in Moby Dick in which one attack of many is mounted on a pod of whales. The males flee individually while the females huddle together, standing by each other even though it may be the germ of their destruction.

I also think of the following passage from “Letters to a Young Poet,” a collection of correspondence doled out by the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately, more fruitfully, and more confidently, must surely have become riper and more human in their depths than light, easygoing man, who is not pulled down beneath the surface of life by the weight of any bodily fruit and who, arrogant and hasty, undervalues what he thinks he loves. This humanity of woman, carried in her womb through all her suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she has stripped off the conventions of mere femaleness in the transformations of her outward status, and those men who do not yet feel it approaching will be astonished by it.

In our everyday American world, bonds with other human beings seem less vital than they might have been at other times, or might be in other places. It’s not generally close bonds with other people that support us, not the fidelity of a tightly-knit community that bails us out when we face a difficult or even dangerous situation. Instead, the money we earn supports and bails. It gives us our food, our shelter, our health care, our transportation, and our entertainment.

In that way, the jobs we hold come to be our most vital companion in life. In that way, the jobs we hold become the important starter for almost any conversation with someone we’re just meeting: “So… what do you do?”

How can simple male friendship compete with this?

Recently, when using Facebook to ponder the significance of my name, a friend replied to me. I was considering how my first name means “Burdened” in Hebrew, and how my last name means “Gamekeeper of a Park” in English. The friend told me that I was wrong in my definitions. He said that Amos Parker actually means “He Who Overanalyzes.”

In pondering the nature of male friendships and overanalysis, I feel as I often do: underanalysis is overrated. Searching for the wellspring of existential loneliness is a worthwhile pastime.

**

“Hey Devon,” I said. “Good to see you.”

I shook his hand once he’d closed the door.

“Good day at work?” I asked.

“Busy,” Devon said.

“Yeah?”

“Cancer center’s a great place to work. Life causes cancer.  I don’t think I’ll be fired anytime soon.”

I nodded, smiling like a cynic.

“Care for a beer?”

Devon brightened. I already had mine open.

“Hell yeah. Choices?”

“Check the fridge,” I said.

Devon nodded, going to the mini-fridge in the basement where the beer could stay cold without taking up prime real estate.

“What do you feel like doing tonight?” I asked as Devon popped the top and took a swig. He swished it around in his mouth, wondering if he should’ve taken a seasonal brew. He swallowed.

“Oh, I’m ok with anything.”

“You sure?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“We can do anything. We can play a videogame, a long board game, a short board game, sit and chat, watch a movie….”

“Anything’s fine, really, just so I can relax. We’re friends. It’s all good.”

“You really don’t care?” I asked.

“No,” Devon said. “It’s up to you.”

“Ok. Well… how about War of the Ring?”

“Oh… yeah…” Devon replied, his facial features twitching like an old building in a strong wind. “I guess. We… might have time, and… I think I remember the rules.”

“Let’s go then,” I said. “Women like to talk about things and men like to do things.”

Devon managed a smile and raised his beer to me. I made a show of ignoring him and clanking mine up against the toaster.

“What are we going to do?”

The man stood outside the house, shivering. His wife’s teeth had chattered as she’d spoken. The man looked at the boards that covered the walls. He didn’t know when he might get another job. Winter was coming, and he worried there’d be no money to keep his family warm.

“I’m looking every day,” the man said. “I’ll find something. I’ll find work.”

His wife shivered. The man put his arm around her.

“We have… enough food in the basement… from the garden…” she said. “But we can’t burn the food. How are we going to keep from freezing this winter?”

The man blew hot breath on his free hand. His wife took the hand from him and tried to warm it herself.

“I’ll think of something,” he replied. “Don’t worry your pretty little head.”

“Hey Devon,” I said. “Can you do me a favor?”

“Sure buddy. What’s up?”

“Great,” I replied, relieved. “You know I’ve got too many board games, right?”

He nodded, half smiling.

“You’ve got a lot of space at your place, right?”

He nodded.

“Can you help me store some of them?”

“Sure!” he said. “I love board games. You know that.”

I smiled and continued. I felt like justifying myself: “I’ve told you why I have so many, right? It’s all I can do to tread water with my job. I don’t feel like I’m gonna mean anything to anyone with work. Sometimes I’m worried I’m gonna die a mediocre failure.”

I trailed off, smiling like I was joking. Devon was silent, waiting.

“Someday I wanna be able to use them to give something back. They bring people together, or they can. You’ve seen that with the guys, right? They’re nothing like what everyone thinks about when they hear the term board games.”

Devon nodded.

“Someday I want to create a big program, maybe with the library. It’ll be something fun, something that gets people out of the house, away from the TV so they can do something together. It could be a major town thing. I just don’t know how to do it yet, how to pull it off.”

“Sounds great,” Devon replied. “You’ll make it happen.”

“My girlfriend may not be comfortable with the money I’ve spent on them,” I continued. “That’s one of the problems. I have to keep trying though, somehow.

I have to feel like I’m working for something, to have some kind of life raft. And, with the cancer she’s been through, it’s even harder to justify the cost.”

Devon nodded, his expression cooling.

“I feel bad hiding it, but I have to feel like I’m at least trying to do something for people, to give something back. Michele can be so intolerant with things she doesn’t agree with. I have to feel like I’m trying hard, trying my best. Part of that is having a real collection. I’ll come up with something. This’ll buy me time.”

“I’d love to help,” Devon replied. “That’d be sweet to have all that stuff at my place. Mi casa es su casa. Can I paw through it whenever I feel like it?”

“It wouldn’t be a problem?” I asked, tentative in the way I raised my pitch at the end of the question.

“No no no. That’d be awesome. My pleasure.”

“Great!” I said, knocking him playfully on the shoulder.

He jumped a little.

“You’re a good friend,” I added. “If it’s ever a problem, let me know. I don’t want to be a bother, and it’s hard to come by good friends out here in the middle of nowhere. Sure, Saint Johnsbury is a town, but it isn’t much of one, right? All this cold. Everyone hides away, and the one’s who wouldn’t have already run away.”

“You’ve got that right,” Devon replied.

“You feel that too, don’t you?” I was glad to hear that he agreed with me. “I really don’t want to be a problem. I can’t afford to lose any friends.”

“Problem?” Devon replied, laughing just a little too loudly. “Why would you ever be a problem?”

“I’m cold, Dad.”

“Me too, Dad. I can’t stop shivering.”

Both the boy and the girl were doing their best. They tried to be tough. They wore the extra clothes that their parents had found, but layers weren’t enough.

“Let me bring you some food,” their mother said. “It’ll give you some energy, and it’ll warm you up too.”

Their father knew it had to be cooked to really warm them up.

He went outside and looked at all the other houses where they lived. Snow had fallen all over. Icicles were dangling from the homes of some of their neighbors. They were the neighbors who were lucky enough to have the wood to burn, and the heat their fires made escaped up through the roofs and melted the snow there, making the icicles possible.

The man didn’t have any icicles on his house.

Here and there, because he had to, the man began taking boards from the outside of his home. It was only a few, and the house could handle it. The man even convinced himself that it made the house look tougher, more lean and mean.

He took the armloads of boards inside and kept his family warm.

“Hey Devon,” I said.

I stepped in through his door and closed it. I was uncomfortable. I felt out of place, like it was one of those days. My sensitivity was acting up, my low-level autistic fragility. I couldn’t control the feeling. I knew it’d poison things if I couldn’t at least hide it. I tried to figure out where it would stash.

“Amos!” Devon replied. “Now the party can start. Flames of War is on the table. Beer?”

“Sorry I’m late,” I said.

He handed me an ale from the fridge, the top already off. I took a long swallow and hoped for magic.

“Ken’s been working on his bike,” Devon said. “He got some extra oomph for the engine. And there’s a new gun he’s been eyeing. You want a gun for Christmas?”

He jabbed me playfully in the ribs. I almost dropped my beer.

“No thanks. I don’t feel like one.”

“Oh. Well come play with us then.”

“I’ll just watch…” I said.

I was starting to sweat. I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place.

“Thanks though,” I continued. “I don’t really like that game. It’s… painful. It’s like having salt rubbed in my eyes.”

“Oh,” Devon replied. “Ok.”

“Actually, I don’t feel well. I need to go home and write too. I can’t make sure Michele’s taken care of if I don’t make a career of it. I get panic attacks if I have to go more than a day without writing some, and… my windows of time are tiny.”

I wiped at my brow and finished my beer, knowing it wasn’t enough to harm my driving. But I wanted at least that much in me when I thought about having bailed.

“Oh. Ok. Say hi to Michele for me.”

I felt bad about bailing, but it could’ve been worse.

The winter wore on, and it was a cold one.

The food ran low ahead of schedule. The man was more and more worried about his wife and kids. He scoured town up and down for both jobs and wood to keep them warm, but there was nothing to be found that other men hadn’t found already.

Lying in bed one night, holding his wife close, she tried to comfort him.

“You’ll find something honey. Keep your chin up.”

“I can’t,” the man replied. “I can’t keep my chin up. It takes dignity to do that.”

“You have dignity. You have us.”

The man held his wife tightly, trying to keep warm with what she’d said. He could feel the cold all around, and he was worried about the children in the next room. He looked out the window and saw snow falling in the moonlight.

“I’ll be back,” he told her, getting up.

He went out the bedroom door, down the stairs, and outside. There were already holes showing here and there in certain less important walls. One of them kept a closet protected from the winter. Another kept the living room insulated, and they stayed mostly in the bedrooms anyway.

Working quietly with the crowbar, he took off some more boards. By the time he was done, he could see into the kitchen.

He went inside and lit a fire in the stove. He stood by it, warming his hands. He went upstairs, feeling the heat follow him toward the bedrooms. He left the doors to the bedrooms open a little, so that the heat could follow.

“I just can’t deal with it anymore,” Devon emailed me, as part of a long, hard email. “I don’t think we can be friends. I didn’t know what to say when you called me. I really was busy. I think it started during Michele’s treatment. I can’t believe you kept all these board games when the money could have been used to help Michele. She had cancer, man. It’s been making me angry for almost two years now.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I wrote back in desperate reply. “Why’d you send me emails every once in a while saying you’d just been busy when just ignoring me would finally have given me the cowardly hint? Couldn’t you man up instead?”

“I helped you and Michele through her cancer,” Devon wrote, “bringing food and everything. You owe us so much. How selfish are you? When Ali and I moved into the new house a year ago, you didn’t move the games out quickly. I asked you twice. I even had to take your punching bag back to you myself. That was a really hard time for me. I just threw up my hands.”

“You’ve made almost no effort to communicate with me for almost two years,” I wrote back. “And I thought I had the games out by the deadline you gave me. I didn’t even know there were problems between us. How was I supposed to? Do you think I’m psychic? How can I just know that someone has totally changed his mind? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Don’t I deserve at least that respect?”

“I’m sure we both did the best we could,” Devon emailed me. “Have a nice life.”

“The best we could? The best we fucking could? If that was the best you could do,” I emailed back, “you need to polish your best. And the best I could? How could I give my best when I didn’t even know what the work was?”

There was almost nothing left of the house. It couldn’t even hold the heat from the fire long enough to be worth it.

The man, his wife, their daughter, and their son were all near to freezing. There was no work, and there was no wood. Everyone else in the neighborhood was either in the same trouble or unwilling to make their lives harder still by helping.

“Dad?” the daughter said one day. “I hear the house creaking.”

Wind blew in from every wall. The man had tried to ignore it, but he could tell that the house was giving way. He started to cry, even in front of them all. He couldn’t help it. He wasn’t even a man. He knew he had no choice.

“Dad?” the son said. “Where are you going?”

“Are we going somewhere, dear?” his wife asked.

“Take… what you can,” the man said. “We’re going to live with my parents.”

They left the house just in time. Turning around in the snow, the four of them watched as the house collapsed. It happened in a great cracking rumble. Some neighbors poked their heads out of their windows to see what had happened. They wondered if the wood might be available to them.

When they reached his parents’ house, the man knocked on the door.

“Can we… stay with you… mom?”

The man’s mother gave him a big hug. He was much larger than her, but he seemed much smaller.

“Of course you can, dear. Let me fix you all something hot to eat.”

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Author: Amos Parker

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Why William Gibson’s _The Gernsback Continuum_ was right

I empathize. Empathy is my core character trait. I strive to identify with people, to speak their language, to understand their ideals. Sometimes people react by leveling with me, by telling me that I’m wise beyond my years or that I’m easy to talk to, that I have an honesty not often seen in this world. Other times, most times, it gets me labeled as arrogant. People ask me who I think I am to act like I know their story, like it might be something comprehendable, comprehensible. I don’t know them or where they came from except insofar as they’ve told me, it’s true. And still I try to empathize, and even with those who pull away, even those who insult me to keep their fair distance, I try to understand.

Why do I hold empathy in such high esteem if it causes me more problems than simply letting people alone? I honestly believe that empathy makes one see the world more honestly and brings one closer to “the truth of things.” This drive empowers my writing, drives my editing, and supports nearly single-handedly my lifestyle and my worldview. To me, in ways immeasurable yet definable, empathy is everything.

This blog is my brainchild; it carries the most true expression of me outside of myself even in this experimental infancy. And nothing will explain me to you so well as explaining the connection between empathy and a frustration that stems from a failure to communicate how deeply the author understands the individual, especially when the audience isn’t aware that the work is the author’s attempt at understanding their audience. However, these frustrations generally inspire better and more honed arguments and writing, which is what I want to attract.

I want to create a steam-valve for authors who, like me, have spent their lives under the burden of miscommunication and misunderstandings. Empathy is something that gets far too little sympathy in this world. I don’t want to publish or to create a safe-haven; I want to vent frustrations that are similar to the ones I’ve carried with me all my life as a burden, when it should be anything else. For us, writing is catharsis, is release, but never is it a lightening of the load.

With that purpose in mind, let me introduce you to James Gregory.

**

I have a pointless story to tell you. I used to tell it to get people to go to Austin with me. It didn’t ever really work. People seemed to want to go to Dallas because Dallas was supposed to be a conservative city, unlike Austin. It’s an incorrect distinction.

Dallas is a really liberal city. They put up the veneer of a right wing dullard just so that people feel safe. It’s real liberalism at work. You know the classless society by making everyone equal; everyone in Dallas is equal by their lack of having any discernable differences.

The buildings are made of only the newest and cheapest of last year’s space aged materials and wrapped in glass so that all you see is a reflection. If you live in Dallas, you are probably older than most of the glass boxes we pass off as architecture. They are tall and that’s the only defining feature. They build tall to dwarf you. You’re insignificance in palatable next to an unnecessarily tall building with an army of suited creeps coming out of it.

He's talking Dallas. I'm showing New York. Make sense? Yeah, it does.

He's talking Dallas. I'm showing New York. Make sense? Yeah, it does.

Austin on the other hand talks a liberal game but really they can’t have real liberalism happen to them. Classes are heavily apparent in Austin. You got the trannies, the queens, emo kids, punks, hardcore kids, mall core, UT students, rich kids, poor kids, hot girls, skanks, virgins, fat chick skanks, redheads, and so many more. You can even move between them. At one point, I was probably mistaken for a high school emo kid. A bad hair cut was to blame. I’d probably be able to fit in pretty well as a UT student or given the right clothes a rich kid, queen, hardcore kid, or whatever. It’s much too democratic to be a one class society there.

I went to Austin to go see a movie a few years back. Election 2 was not playing in Dallas; it was foreign and involved gangsters. I drove four hours to Austin listening to Rilo Kiley ’cuz I think Jenny Lewis is hot. But I think all redheads are hot.

I got to Austin and we had time to kill before the movie. We went to go watch Slaughter House 5 while we waited. It was not the best movie, but I hadn’t expected much since the book wasn’t so good, either. America has a strong science fiction tradition with Philip K. Dick and William Gibson. We show our bad taste by holding up Vonnegut and Asimov as good examples.

The movie thankfully ended after two and a half hours. I got hungry. The paramount movie theater/play house is right by 6th Street in Austin, the fun part. In Austin, though, you see the gorgeous downtown buildings and can’t help noticing they put Dallas to shame. We wanted to get some pizza at one of those crappy places that sell less than stellar pizza. that still manages to taste amazing after you get a few in you.

We walked down the street and ran into Leslie the Tranny. Leslie is down there all the time. He has a head like Grizzly Adams. His body resembles a Frankenstein of Pamela Anderson with a steroid induced Larry King. I will never hold it against my friend for giggling. But the giggling was why Leslie started following us. He was frighteningly quiet outside of the other giggles he was eliciting due to a combination of stealthy sneakers and the loud and proud bikini. Thankfully, he ran into a hot woman and began to talk to her. It was at that point that I realized that even me and Leslie have something we agreed on. She was not a red head, though. Dark black hair is almost as good.

The pizza was not the best looking thing either me or my friend had seen so food was still not happening. Also, we suddenly realized we needed to get all the way across town to see the other movie. The movie I drove four hours to see. We started walking back to the car, back across 6th. But we’re being followed by a bunch of cute naughty school girls. A few of them were Asian, and I have to say wonder why they would play into their own stereotype. Probably, college kids trying to make dad Dad mad, or they were going to one of the many self declared modeling agencies around Austin.

All this is happening as I’m walking in front of a massage parlor with an ATM out front. The name of the business is Midnight Cowboys Massage Parlor. No, I did not make that up. I also see something named along the lines of Heavy Metal Pizza and half expect there to be a dungeon master in there with the way it looks from the outside. It probably had good pizza.

About as non-corporate as you get

About as non-corporate as you get

Eventually, we got across town, found a Chipotle, and saw the movie, which was amazing. Johnnie To is one of the best directors in the world, and thankfully I live in a country where you can see his movies.

The movie could’ve gotten him killed. It’s about the Chinese government’s involvement in the triads, the Hong Kong mafia. He had debuted the movie in France so that the Chinese censors couldn’t take all the flavor out of the movie. (They have a tendency to destroy the original footage of things they don’t like.)

We had a great time at the movie. When that one dude got turned into dog food, my friend said we had a winner. Afterwards we went to get snacks, since Austin has great food. Unfortunately, we didn’t go to some glorious hole in the wall but to a place my friend called the Shady Shell. It was appropriately named since it was a shady looking Shell gas station with a drug deal going on out front. Reason for the Shady Shell experience was for me to meet my clone, who turned out to be gay with too much make up and in possession of a crack nail that I could only label impressive. My clone was ready to be swept off it’s feet by once it noticed me, only I wasn’t willing. I think we parted on good terms, and I’ve certainly glimpsed the Andy Warhol version of myself.

The night went on. We watched another movie where Pierce Brosnan armed with a knife flew out of a dead horse screaming like a girl. It was fun and funny. I’m not making that one up either. Name of the movie is Seraphim Falls.

The next morning I woke up, said good bye to my friend, and drove back to Dallas. I listened to the same CD again. I kept thinking how hot redheads are.

Our country is becoming Dallas when it used to be Austin. We’ve always had a strong anti-democracy streak thanks to farmers and Southern landed-gentry types. The current problem began around FDR when he declared war on the free economy, which if anything is the ultimate freedom of a shark pit.

He was determined to make the nation controllable. He made a system where everyone answered to him. His pet project was communes that were made out of only white people that all had the same house. A few of these blights still stand in the south.

We’ve never recovered from it. You see a few gasps here and there at the sort of fun we used to have in this country. We had Woodstock. We had Orson Welles. Russ Meyer cranked out movies in the 60s and gang banging people into the theaters with promises of topless women. Drive ins showed movies with names like Kiss Me Deadly, which is an amazing movie (go see it!), and Mondo Topless (not so much).

Obama wants to make us more like Dallas. His plans always encompass everyone. He wants us all to be accountable only to him. He seems determined to make us a place where the old and established rule with an iron fist and any sort of freedom must be squelched in favor of the bland, Godless whole.

House of God, meet tower of phallus.

House of God, meet tower of phallus.

You won’t be able to drive four hours to see a movie because your gas will be too high to pay for cause they will have to tax gas to pay for the deficit that will be through the roof on universal healthcare. You will not get a single foreign movie because tariffs are soon going to have to come into play to keep corporations from leaving America in favor of out sourcing. Places like heavy metal pizza, Midnight Cowboys, the paramount theater, and the Shady Shell will go away to be replaced with faux European-style concrete blocks staffed with angry, entitled middle agers.

Everyone complains about the Me mentality of people. The problem is that we don’t have a Me mentality. We have a childish one. People elected Obama because he said he would be their daddy. No one likes living with their parents, trust me on that. The Me mentality produces movies like Election 2, 500 Days of Summer, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. It makes books like Brideshead Revisited and Pale Fire. It makes pizza like Heavy Metal Pizza. Obama’s universal this and that is an attack on the individual. It’s an attack on Me, and, as Austin proves time and time again, Me is the one you’d rather spend time with.

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Author: James Gregory

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Criticism, Features, Guest author, Humanistic, Statement of purpose, Writing