Tag Archives: personal

Writing group 20150531

Patrick Ball. Cursed be his name and his children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under brainstorming, Writing

As Tanya put it, I crap on everything

Some readers feel compelled to remind me that I’m twenty-six. Within that group, a subset tells me (as often as they get the chance) that I do not know everything. But telling an intelligent and ambitious twenty-six year old that he does not have the capacity to understand everything is like telling a teenager that he is not immortal:

He will agree with you because of course you’re right. He might even understand that what you really mean is not that the teenager can die but that actions have consequences some of which he is not prepared for and others which he is totally incapable of handling. But of course the teenager can die, and he knows this. And of course actions have consequences, and he knows this. It’s what he doesn’t know that matters most: He does not know the horrible threshold consequences can elevate to. He does not know the terrible burden consequences sometimes aspire to. He does not know just how quickly his life can turn from seeming security to irresistable loss. He does not even know that some things in life are irresistable.

What I understand from readers of this type, when I take them at their best critique, is that I am not capable of understanding everything in the world. But of course I know this. I am a student of Socrates, where all knowledge is vain, and I have no faith in the things I know. I am a student of Ptolemy, where when I see two systems side by side that work just as well, I consider one as good as another and arbitrarily choose one with which to move forward (I must move forward.). I am a student of Galileo, where when I come to see that one system surpasses the other I had arbitrarily chosen, I hold no qualms in switching systems. I am a student of Einstein, where even as systems become more complicated they become simpler, and yet even as I abstract out of my perspective, these systems can never grow outside my perspective. I am a student of Kuhn, where the system of switching systems is itself a science, for all the paradoxes that entails.

I know, as well as the teenager knows that he is not immortal, that my knowledge is vain. What matters is what I do not know.

I do not know that knowledge has negative consequences beyond the fickle: peoples’ jealousy, peoples’ annoyance, peoples’ opinion of my arrogance. I do not know that loneliness matters in the grand scheme of things; isolation is the birthplace of human genius, but loneliness is so wearisome. I do not know how difficult it will be to unsubscribe from all the human systems I have digested, should my spiritual growth ever attain that level. What more consequences I do not know, I do not know.

In college I told friends that my vision of entering afterlife was a process where you receive one opportunity to let go the burden of your accumulated knowledge such that, should you choose to accept his offer, God fills you with Truth and Knowledge, fulfilling all the desires you ever had to know him and his gifts. Should you not except, you remain stuck with yourself. I imagined a white light, a time-eclipsed experience of floating in his essence. I suppose in some small way I still cling to that fantasy, that all my effort and knowledge are moot, accumulating inevitably as I wait for the opportunity to cast them aside. And yet the longer I hold them—for I cannot let them go—the more tempting assuming them becomes.

I also believe that self-knowledge is a system that shall one day require letting go. I believe that despite the deception of relativity, we learn about ourselves through a third-person perspective. Our only benefit is that we are so much closer to ourselves than others are: every waking moment can be spent on self-reflection. But one comes to know oneself as one comes to know any other self, and one can never know oneself as it is promised that God knows one. But perhaps there is no omniscience who knows you as you do not know yourself: I cannot promise it is so; only in the void of my impressionable imagination do I see anything of the kind. Therefore, even concerning self-knowledge, as it is with all other forms of knowledge, I am aware that either all is vain or all is moot: either way, it makes no difference. And yet I cannot help myself.

So, please, take me at my word: I know I do not know everything. I know I lack the capacity of wholly knowing the world or human knowledge or myself. I persevere in my authorial attempt and poetic displays not because I think I am some messiah sent to set the world straight but because, so long as I suffer life, I suffer human capacities, most specifically the being dragged along by the unflinching juggernaut of everincrementing time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Criticism, Humanistic, Personal essay, Statement of purpose, Writing

Scream a Song

Here’s a post from The Journal of Cultural Conversation that Laura apparently took down. I plan on doing something cool with the other post, which I’ll put up again at some point, probably when I decide it’s time to follow through with “something cool.” As you can see, all of the old posts are back up (except for Kiran’s Featured Fan) and I’m no longer planning on doing regular postings, though I think that’s a hot idea for someone with more time on their hands. Anyway, on to the old post!

**

One of my favorite pastimes is to collect information from writers about writing. Whether it comes in the forms of interviews, essays, books, or word of mouth, I love logging the tidbits away for my own personal use. I see on social networks that people share this pastime, and they show off their passion with quotes. There’s something abstract about the knowledge, though, that’s more worthwhile to authors than any quote could retain outside of context.

For example, Soren Kierkegaard wrote in Either/Or that creative writing is the process of turning scream into song. The people who hear it will ask you to write more without ever realizing that what their asking of you is to suffer more. I paraphrase him because it took him a page to say this, and any quote extricated from the corpse would no longer retain the vitality of the whole.

Dorothy Allison came to Emerson College last spring to talk with undergraduate writers about writing. Among the topics, she discussed she learned to lie at a very young age, which transitions smoothly in writing as it turns out. She told about the shame poverty inspires, and that writers bit by this feeling often write out the effects without being fully aware of the system under which they’re struggling. Many beautiful jewels fell forth from her pool of knowledge that evening for the students. One statement in particular, undeveloped in the midst of the speech, stuck with me.

She, a Southern lesbian blue-collar author, said that lesbians no longer present themselves as a danger to society. Somehow, whether through the porn industry’s display of “lesbians” or by defaulting to the mass stereotype of woman, the subculture of the things has smooth over and become almost palatable, almost like a horse pill. She, briefly, berated any lesbians in the room who had given into the modern culture where lesbians are cute and fluffy bunnies who aren’t a threat to anything. Lesbianism is a threat, she reminded; it stabs at the very founding principles of our patriarchic society.

Many of you during this introduction may have looked back at my name and wondered why a male author is talking about a female author’s take on lesbianism. (A few of you may have done a double-take, wondering if Greg is a label ever slapped onto a girl. It doesn’t flow as well as “a boy named Sue,” I admit.) Though male, I consider her point well made and one that needs appreciation in the face of monotonous mediocrity.

First, the obvious question: Do I think lesbians are inherently threatening? No. At least, not anymore than any individual is a threat to the establishment. I don’t agree with Dorothy that lesbians are supposed to threaten order; a lesbian is just a person, and any person is liable to desire to fit in, to break off the odd shoots in order to slide along unhassled. We can go back to Machiavelli and find that the greatest political power lies in the assumption that people just want to be left alone to live as they see fit.

However, I do agree with the larger idea stated in her assumption: it is the responsibility of the artist to not fit in, to fight against a following mentality, to lead even when nobody is following. In the golden days of American lesbianism that Dorothy remembers and I wasn’t alive to experience, to be a lesbian meant something; the statement itself challenged the assumption of sexuality in our country, in any modern nation. But society is an assimilating force, and it adapted in order to reduce the threat of individuality by allowing lesbians to exist in peace, at least if they live in designated liberal cities.

What’s lost is the call to individuality, that one needs to stand up in the face of adversity even if they don’t feel the challenge directly, personally. What’s lost is the call to isolation, to stand as you are in the face of those who don’t wish you to be and fight for your right to exist. Artists most of all need to remember this call if only because it separates those who survived this period of middle-class middle-living pseudo-celebrities and those who managed to scrape a higher living and possibly even a little true renown.

Lesbianism used to guarantee pain, separation and isolation and torment and discrimination. In that way, it caused one to maintain themselves as an individual, to live true to Kierkegaard’s description of creative writing: to sing screams and have the mass love you for it. Individuals would do well to respect what it means to create; they would do well to avoid the smooth and oiled surface that causes them to fit in, preferring instead the way of pain, the way of artistic merit.

Leave a comment

Filed under Criticism, Humanistic, Personal essay, Writing

Why I write

I was pretty happy with the way my homework essay-response came together for my nonfiction course with Richard Hoffman. Therefore, I’m going to share it with you in lieu of a guest-author write up!

I can’t esteem Richard highly enough as a professor. He speaks in awe-inspiring quotes, eschewing them like so much air, as if beautiful language were a matter of nature rather than a honed skill. The assignments he has given in both his memoir workshop and the literary workshop I’m currently taking with him have been thought-provoking (obviously, see below) and enlightening. He would have had a heavy impression on what I understood an author to be if I hadn’t been of a similar mind before meeting him, and he has had a notable impact on my understanding of what the memoir genre is and can be.

I encourage you (and myself) to pick up his poetry and at least Half the House just to see what American authors are capable of when they’re not bullshitting themselves with pop culture psuedo-psychology. He’s in the top two or three of living author’s I’d be flattered to be told I was following in his footsteps.

Now, for my homework assignment.

**

One of the most obvious ways I have a general sense of communion with “other people” in my life is my pursuit of recognition. As you’ve seen at least in “Junior Year” [not posted here!] in addition to my general complaints about never being understood in my essays, I’ve long felt conflicted about my inability to communicate with my “teachers.” One the one hand, I want them to recognize what I’m attempting to do even if I fail. On the other hand, I’ve flourished in a continual stream of disappointment that we are both steeped in, my teachers and I.

A symptom of this comes in remarks about the inevitability of progressive failure in the face of man en masse. What I mean by this is that the pursuit of moderation and reasonability in worldview, held as a beacon by philosophers and artists alike, only takes place on an individual basis and usually stands apart from the community at large. I mentioned this last class as it was espoused by Montaigne through Cicero, two points that through time form a flat line evidencing the lack of societal progress at least between 100 BCE and 1500 CE.

Robert Louis Stevenson gives this idea some credence as well in his essay “An Apology for Idlers” when he says, “Alas and alas! you may take it how you will, but the services of no single individual are indispensable.” The context of this quote makes it clear that he lumps artists into this conglomeration of worthlessness. I don’t believe he meant that the act of personal growth is worthless, merely that any attempt to inspire men to live up to the idea of personal growth is bound to fail. As it’s said in the mouths of our contemporaries, “Innovation at the core is very slow, while innovation at the edge is happens very fast.” Note that by very slow we mean “nonexistent and (actively and passively) resisted.”

What happens when we take away the obvious artistic temperament, to sally forth with brandished passion, besieging the stasis of mankind in an attempt to rouse their sentiments and better their dispositions? We can say that writing of this nature, that bears in mind a purpose before it, is as flawed and any agenda-bearing writing, but we’ll also rob a great many writers in the world of their reason for writing. For many hope to affect change; I believe I remember you yourself saying that a level of hope must underwrite all memoirs in order to justify the author’s venture.

But perhaps I’ll side more with Nietzsche on this particular problem and ask, “Why do you think I write to be read?” I have no real commercial aspirations for my writing and am actually planning my life in such a way that I don’t depend on my writing for my income. However, I do tweak my writing in workshops and according to reader feedback. Something in me–God purge me of it–still seeks the approval of others, but something else seeks art for the sake of a true spiritual expression the likes of which no writing could ever convey. I am a human, after all, and therefore full of paradox and contradiction.

One might address this split as a contrast between the dark “romantic” realism that Stevenson addresses in “The Lantern-Bearers” and the light of life that evidences why life is worth living and books worth reading. I myself coincidentally wrote something in my blog the day before I read the essay that sounds distinctly like what Stephenson is getting at:

My written world is dark. I tend to write about people who aren’t altogether nice in situations that aren’t going to turn out in the characters’ favor. After all, why should they? The world doesn’t work that way on a mass level. We suffer every day or every hour crimes (both legal and moral) that nobody wants to suffer–murder, rape, infidelity, bureaucracies–and we have to live with the scars whether or not we solicited them. I write these stories because these are the stories of man en masse, as I see it.

but on the other hand:

The particular level in which we live sometimes proves that dark world true. Othertimes we get to enjoy moments of exception.

For example, I have a girlfriend, Ashley, that you don’t see me write about much. She’s lovely and sweet and charming. She adores me and, as hasn’t been the case for years before, I adore her back. She sings like an angel, she supports me emotionally and financially, and she loves my dog. Speaking of that, Ashley has a heart as large and powerful as my ego.

In other words, I write about what I see in mankind on the whole, which tends to show a dark world where terrible things happen and any brightness that appears is as accidental but not as commonplace as the darkness with which it contrasts. On the other hand, I consider my life fairly blessed (a strange word for me to use in the best circumstances) even in the face of my mistakes and those of the people around me.

How do I justify the dichotomy between what I write and what I live? I’m obsessed with the fallibility of life, with frailty and its place in the pursuit of happiness. I can only justify it truly with youth: I want to point out through my art that happyness is not happiness; that is, the American ideal doesn’t measure up to the philosophic and mystic lives and experiences that I’ve read about and participated in.

I know on the one hand that no amount of cleverness, artistry, or good intention on my part will get man to recognize at the foot of his endeavors that all is vanity, shadows and dust with which we amuse ourselves. Similar messages birthed in genius far greater and more primal than I can hope to achieve have existed for thousands of years without infringing on the blank slate of birth and nature. Cultures vastly more powerful to billions of people have a hard enough time reigning in their citizens let alone impacting their natural faculties in a meaningful way (which even if it is accomplished is largely accidental).

I also have that youthful fire that hopes against all odds and against all evidence that one message may spread virally through our collective consciousness and change the world forever for the better. I suppose I should focus on this zeal as my next topic of meditation, my last being manipulation, an interpersonal force I have largely left behind and a meditation that generated some of my best work to date.

I know that the endgame is an experience I have had before, to have words like fire that burn in your belly and come out as near to prophecy as mortals can hope to achieve. I do not believe in a sort of God that would ever have me as a mouthpiece, nor do I believe in the massively transitional power of prophecy or prophecy-like writing. I do, however, believe in, and I have experience words that just must get written down, creation that happens quite independently of me, as Montaigne discusses with his muses in “On Some Verses of Virgil.”

Some forces are greater than any individual will, and others have shown themselves more powerful than any number of wills combined. Virgina Woolf mentioned death as this sort of massively overwhelming power in “The Death of a Moth,” but it is not solitary in this position. Birth also overwhelms us, both with the forgetfulness and the capabilities which it plants in us. I believe that this mechanism itself is enough to nullify artists’ endeavors at upbuilding mankind.

n20531316728_2397Share on Facebook
twitterShare on Twitter
del_icio_usSave to del.icio.us
digg
Digg it
redditSave to Reddit
aolfavEven more ways to bookmark

Author: Greg Freed

Leave a comment

Filed under Criticism, Humanistic, Personal essay, Writing

Pneumonia: Episode one

Writing nonfiction has always come easily to me; even the most mundane events have inspiration buried inside them, which is why I cherish challenges to make events like workdays inspiring. Sometimes, however, the scene cuts itself short, and there’s no “angry blob monster” strategy to negotiate a nonfiction author’s writer’s block.

With that, I give you a piece about my college years. Critique, comment; give me somewhere to go aside from the obvious, a path my brain seems adamant not to take.

**

I lay down on the cement, which feels warmer than my body. I breathe in deeply, as deeply as I can, and my lungs begin to itch terribly. I exhale quickly, fearfully, but I waited too long. The cough comes, horrible and fluid.

I bask in the sunlight in deep fall. It’s fall, isn’t it? I close my eyes because my head is spinning, taking the sky along with it. I breathe again. I avoid the cough, barely.

Baylor’s doctors told me I have pneumonia. How long ago was that? I open my eyes and look around; I’m at Baylor Student Learning Center, home of their medical team. I moan as my head swells. Tears well up in my eyes.

My head hurts so badly. I tried to break it on the cinder blocks of my dorm room. It woke me up, the pain. I coughed and coughed and coughed, my diaphragm yanking my body into a fetal position. And then I turned to look at the entrance of my dorm room with that damn two by one foot vent. The never ending blast of cold splashed right on me, blew onto my bed unavoidably. Damn it to hell, my nemesis.

Turning back to the window, I shivered under my comforter. My head never settled down, never stopped spinning, never stopped aching. I had class today, my last class before Thanksgiving Break, before going home to my family. I banged my head against the wall instead.

I wanted to fracture the skull, the see pieces of it sliding down the beige blocks. I wanted to see the cold, malevolent wall painted in my blood and bone. I didn’t even manage to bruise myself, didn’t even chafe the dry skin. I was too weak.

Colt had come in and asked me why I missed class. I groaned, got up, and vomited in our sink. Or did I dream about vomiting in the sink? He asked me if he could take me to the doctors at the SLC. That was after I said I couldn’t drive there, couldn’t even walk there.

He had dropped me off at the entrance, but he didn’t wait around. If he had stayed, he might’ve hit rush hour traffic in Houston, four hours away. I opened the door and climbed out and off he went like a bullet in his sporty silver Civic.

Oh, my fucking head. I grab it with my hands, I shut my eyes tightly, I rub my temples, but nothing helps. Athena. Zeus. Oh, God, I’m about to pass out.

A female voice speaks over me: “Do you need some help?” It seems all consuming. It pounds inside my fevered head. The cement is cold. The sun is weak.

I open my eyes. It’s the nurse who had me wait two hours to see a doctor. “Grandparents,” I mumble, “coming.”

“What?” she asks.

I cough, regaining some strength. “My grandparents are coming.”

“Do you need a ride to the hospital?”

They had told me in the doctors’ office that they couldn’t drive me to the hospital, that it made them liable if something happened on the way. I couldn’t drive, though, can’t drive now, passed out on the sidewalk.

I pull out my cell phone and call my grandparents. This confuses the nurse, but she stands there politely. My grandparents don’t answer; I get their machine. It’s been forty-five minutes since they said they were on their way, though. I’ve made the trip from the college to their house before; it’s fifteen minutes, tops.

I struggle to put the cell phone away, pushing it forcefully into my pocket, and lift my hand to the nurse, which induces more pounding in my head. My hand only lifted just over a foot off the ground before it flopped back, limp with exhaustion. What’s happening to me? Fear sets in, and adrenaline starts to pump.

With effort, I sit up. My coughing nearly topples me.

“Do you need help?” she asks me again.

“Oh, God, yes.” My voice shakes. I’m on the verge of tears.

“Do you remember what the doctor said you had?”

“Pneumonia.”

Just then, my grandparents pulled up in the driveway. The nurse pulled on my arm, trying to get me up.

n20531316728_2397Share on Facebook
twitterShare on Twitter
del_icio_usSave to del.icio.us
digg
Digg it
redditSave to Reddit
aolfavEven more ways to bookmark

Author: Greg Freed

22 Comments

Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing

Manager, a character sketch

I read this piece at Emerson’s Graduate Reading Series in Spring 2009, and the audience received it well. Enjoy!

**

Give anger a body, a well-crafted superbly sculpted male, screaming and tense. … In the moments where the veneer of pursuit wears thin, when the film and crust of years of wasted life begin to dry and crack from overuse and abuse, humans revolt, find their lack of faith and their faith’s lack of substance disgusting. Too scared to recognize their dilemma, too overwhelmed to reasonably place blame, they rage. … They will define themselves in terms of their distraction in order to again pull their mind away from their pain. When I craft them, they light themselves afire and scream to heaven, “See? I have virtue, too! I give off my own light, and it is beautiful!” The pain distracts them from the fact that their light is fueled by their skin, the energy is borrowed from a system that is not their creation nor was ever under their control.

**

Underappreciated. Unappreciated. I had so much energy at the start of this job, this step forward in my life, this salaried position, this point in the American dream. I had so much hate when I was younger, half my lifetime ago; is that the key to it all? Lazily, I watch the walls, my chin resting in the crook of my left arm. Or I watch the internet, same position, trolling websites. People online are so cruel; it makes me laugh. I can’t match their cruelty. I rarely even have the energy to respond. That’s why I’m a troll: I watch and crawl and envy. If I ever do decide to try and join in, the ridicule is so brash that I can’t possibly continue to care or to follow through.

Work isn’t much different. I used to care, young and hopeful and dreamily wet-eyed. My parents were so proud, and so was I. The gap between graduation and employment had seemed like torture, so gratuitously long. I had dreams of walking up to the suits, those people in charge, and convincing them with merely my passion that I was the one for the job. Interviews, though, are so much more difficult than dreams. I went through plenty of them before an offer was made, and when one was, I jumped at it. I was ravenous for work; the desire to prove myself had so much weight, more even than the desire to separate myself from my parent’s pocketbook. What happened to it? I can’t even be bothered to recall; that was years ago, so very long ago.

Exercise used to help. After a long day of mind-numbing work, for no position I have ever filled has required much thought, I’d rush off to the gym. The weights I lifted felt so much more like an accomplishment than almost finishing my inbox, only to watch the work pile up again right in my face. No matter how fast I typed, how efficiently I stampeded through and pushed forward, the mail just kept flying in. Weights were different. One hundred and fifty pounds; one eighty; two hundred: Look at the increase! Look at the progress!

The energy it generated was only mechanical in nature, and the more I exercised the more I wanted to exercise until eventually I couldn’t give it anymore time. I was running, weightlifting, sweating. My body worked until I didn’t really control it anymore, not scheduling my workout around work but working around my workout. But God I looked beautiful! The women I picked up at the gym or out at the bar with friends were nearly as beautiful as me, almost identical in mindset. I wish it could have lasted.

Inexplicably, I lost interest. A void appeared in my schedule, which for all of my late-twenties had been so tight, and it’s not like I was bored for an hour and then had something else to do; I had nothing to do. That’s when my internet trolling began, but my decline in interest at work was already well established. My youthful zeal had spurred me to produce high-quality content on-time and ahead of schedule, but I hadn’t learned how to balance a salaried position and the demands of life: finding a place to live, buying and cleaning clothes, my exercise and social routine, etc. My production came in bursts, mostly when life was calm, and life has a tendency to work in waves, calm only between trough and crest. Slave drivers, my bosses wanted to get out of me all the time what I gave them at my most prolific. I suppose that’s where the burnout began. I fought, trying to reason with them, imploring their sympathy as my apartment lease ran out, as my friends got married or divorced, as life presented many and various obstacles. I shouldn’t have expected their pity, and I certainly didn’t get it.

The hours at work became longer as I tried to make my productivity consistent, stretching like a rubberband where the tension is never released. The exercise compensated for the unfulfilled desire of punching my bosses in the face. Eventually I began to hope that they would fire me, end my necessity to try to please them. I could slouch, then, and complain about the injustice of my termination. Everyone would listen, I fantasized. Everyone would buy it. Instead, I received a promotion. Now I had underlings to produce for me, and it was my responsibility as manager to make them produce. The employees looked so much like I had at first: hopeful and ambitious. I would have quit if I had known at the time that their career paths would have been exactly like mine, if I had known it was my face they would picture punching during their workouts.  I did not quit, however; I watched the drones crawl towards their futures.

Sometimes I see myself in my employees, or maybe I recognize the way they understand me. I know their feelings; I can see them through the salty whites of their eyes. I anticipate the pitiful shaking of my fearful employees, the way their irises contract under pressure. Their legs tremble under their pleated slacks, and they worry too much about whether I can see their shaking, too much over their individual humiliation, to truly listen. The young seem to harbor a perpetual and almost preternatural inability to focus. But that’s alright; my reprimands ceased to help them be better employees shortly after I gained the authority to give them. Tears well in their eyes, washing away the old, bitter salt which deposits anew when they dry. My underlings guarantee their lack of salience with a pool of saline. But no, they’ll not cry, not in front of me; Employees never transgress professionalism openly.

And here I am. I can’t distract myself from my employees’ fates without the truth of my own progression breaking my concentration and ruining the numb experience of it all. At home, I can’t pick a show to watch, and when I do settle I pay it little attention or far too much. I’ve stopped sleeping well. I get little to nothing out of it, the six to eight hours dwindling away regardless of their productivity. My dreams haunt me.

In one, I am a teenager again, screaming at my parents, blaming them for my future. I reach out to beat my father who assures me that I cannot know what the future holds, yelling savagely back at him exactly what my life is like, tears streaming down my face. My fists won’t hit him; my screams reach deaf ears. I punch and punch and punch, and he laughs at me and my claims of clairvoyance. My mother looks at me sympathetically, but she assures me that if that’s what life has in store for me, I should be glad for it. I could strangle her, but my hands won’t touch her. I grab and grab, but they always miss. I wake up sweating and furious, but the effects are always gone by the end of my morning shower.

Another has me as some gargantuan glutton. I feast on my underlings, their succulent fingers first. I throw the rest to a disposal, which grinds the leftovers and does away with them. I wake with my stomach in knots, and I often wretch. If anything does come up, I’m glad to see bile only.

These nightmares torment me much more thoroughly than my hopeful dreams of employment filled my youth. I rarely go a night without soaking the bed in my sweat. I rarely wake without disgusted chills so severe I nearly lose my feet in the morning on the way to the shower.

Mostly, I hate them. My waking hours are filled with dreams where my nightmares are books. They line the wall behind my desk, elegant proof of my technical proficiency and industrial wherewithal. I unconsciously imagine myself ripping them to shreds. I burn them. If only they’d be destroyed so easily! I hate them. I can’t be rid of them!

What is it I’ve done differently than everyone else that makes me deserve these things? I’m just a man, and I’ve done all the things that are expected of me! But no, I’m not just a man: I’m me, and I’ve lived my life and done my actions, but I’m just a manager among managers. I’ve never heard other people complain of such horrible visions! Why must they plague me? Why? Why me?

I’ve never complained of them. What would people say if I confided? See a shrink, who has a mind for such things. But my war isn’t with myself, but with my dreams! If they’d just leave, I’d have nothing to be angry about!

Ugh, but I can’t stand it anymore! I can’t empty my mind! I can’t live my life! What is this that I can’t avoid? Why can’t I ignore it? I hate it all! I hate it!

I’m too good to be so tormented. I work my job. I pay my way. I have friends. I’m a debt to no one! Why, then, do I feel so twisted and so alone? Why do these haunting thoughts make me see myself so wicked? I’m not wicked! I’m not evil! I don’t force corruption on anyone! I’m a consumer! I’m a worker! I’m what a man should be!

I’m fucking disgusting. But I don’t hate myself. I love myself, unappreciated as I am in this world. If I were appreciated, I wouldn’t dream these horrible dreams. My employees should respect and thank me for the effort I spend on them! I should be proud of the life I lead! I should love my proud parents and be happy that they are pleased for me, but I hate, hate, HATE, HATE these fucking dreams! If only I could sleep.

n20531316728_2397Share on Facebook
twitterShare on Twitter
del_icio_usSave to del.icio.us
digg
Digg it
redditSave to Reddit
aolfavEven more ways to bookmark

Author: Greg Freed

2 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Writing

Garden Part Two: Concerning man and beast, God and man

I used to go to this unused farm up in Allen, TX with Kalli. It took about fifteen minutes to drive there from my home, and when we’d arrive I’d let her out of the car and we’d walk down the tree-lined dirt road towards those untended fields. I never did find out the story about how a farm fell into being just a dog park, but a golf course and suburban neighborhood had grown up around it, which always made me suspect that the farmer was waiting for some development company to offer him a price perhaps a little better than fair. While he waited, the fields grew stiff yellow grass and wild flowers and weeds, and trees stood blocking out the houses and the golf course and the roads. Other off-leash dogs and their walkers gave the only evidence that I hadn’t actually left civilization behind.

I wonder whether walking in Allen with Kalli would be like walking with God in the garden. Out in nature, commands nearly cease to exist. Kalli chases field mice and jack rabbits, and I do not worry for her. I take pleasure in the puppy-like qualities she hasn’t outgrown, the smile that so plainly lights up her face when she looks back at me: she’s always fifty feet ahead, just fifty, and she occasionally looks back to make sure that I’m following her or that she’s preemptively following me. If I change directions, she’ll run past me fifty feet, look back, and smile.

Sign of the times

Sign of the times

How different would life be if  Charismatics and other emotive religions could actually fulfill the promises of spiritual awareness with God, if I could know that God was looking after me like so many claim to know it? But I can’t prove that he is; that’s the great trial of faith, to believe that he’s looking even in the absence of proof. But their universal and bland rhetoric states that you can feel it, that you can know for sure beyond the trials of faith; how different would life be if that were the case?

Therefore, how can I help but be happy that she feels so thrilled at these little and simple joys? The best days for her are those when we go out into the field together, and I can tell just by her acknowledgment and constant awareness of my presence that the experience wouldn’t be the same without me. The field wouldn’t bring her so much pleasure if I weren’t there to share it with her.

I have thoughts about leaving civilization, and they’re so tempting since—to an extent—civilization can actually be left behind. Would I more actively pursue happiness if I were to leave my thoughts and the thoughts of men behind in order to participate in this daily happiness with Kalli, or would her elation wear off or my happiness at her elation? I took her out to Allen often enough when I lived nearby, and the pleasure of it never wore off. I can’t imagine it ever waning.

Or am I talking more about hermitude than of abandonment? Could I forget Socrates? Assuming so, would I want to leave my doubt behind? Would I abandon my spiritual resignation?

What would it be like to walk in the garden with God, to always know he’s there, to turn my head every few feet just to make sure that he’s with me, that he hasn’t turned in a different direction, to give chase once I found he had? If my relation to Kalli would be like God’s relation to me, could I sustain that pure, simple happiness that she has in my presence towards God and His presence? Do I really need to leave the city and go into nature to pursue God in this way? Would such simple happiness really require me to stop being me, to sacrifice my self the way in which Kalli has never had to sacrifice her dogness for me?

If the story is true and the knowledge of philosophy came into man after his nature was made, then yes, I suppose I would have to sacrifice the unnatural part in order to participate in walking with God in the garden. But Christ only talks of nullifying the curses laid on us, of freeing us from the burden and yoke of sin. What Christian would say that by becoming like Christ he has lost the knowledge of good and evil but rather gained the ability to always pick good over evil? Would even Christ have said that he knew neither good nor evil but only the will of the Father, as opposed to saying that the will of the Father is good but his actions without the will of the Father are bad, thereby admitting a knowledge of good and evil? But, of course, my phrases give away my opinion on such beliefs, If the story is true and What Christian would say.

A new way to view an rusted triumvirate

A new way to view an rusted triumvirate

I would like to participate in a relationship with God in such a way as Kalli participates in a relationship with me, but the truth denies me: man has the ability to abstract, which separates him from other animals in general and inspires doubt; I abstract, therefore I doubt. Obviously I have said that my dog is rational, a creature which can be taught and cared for, so I do not define man as a rational animal, rational being what distinguishes him from other animals. Rather, man is an abstracting animal, and I would set forth that even if the story of the fall is true, man had in him the ability to abstract before the apple, which led to doubt, which led to a distance from God, which led to the eating.

Could I sustain the happiness of walking with God in the garden as Kalli can sustain her happiness with me? Could I sustain my happiness with her the way it’s claimed, without proof, that God sustains his happiness with me? I don’t know, but in truth I don’t believe so.

n20531316728_2397Share on Facebook
twitterShare on Twitter
del_icio_usSave to del.icio.us
digg
Digg it
redditSave to Reddit
aolfavEven more ways to bookmark

Author: Greg Freed

4 Comments

Filed under Criticism, Philosophy/Theology