Tag Archives: psychology

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.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Criticism, Humanistic, Personal essay, Writing

Theme Thursday: A seasonal affair

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

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

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

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

This week’s theme: Summer

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

Guidelines

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

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

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

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

**

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

The original (authored by Claire):

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

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

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

The remix:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A 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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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Features, Fiction, Guest author, Writing

A Brief History: A view of sexual ethics today

Does social media work for blogs? Yes. Yes, yes, and yes.

I started this blog with my Facebook network, mostly friends, some family, and a few acquaintances. The first week’s readership was small, the next doubled, and the next doubled again. I had about thirty or thirty-five readers consistently interested in my work. Some were close friends in Boston and family, others were friends with whom I am hardly connected any longer, hadn’t seen since high school, maybe longer.

None of them were vocal. Few comments, no real feedback. But they were there; the stats were there. Their presence pushed me onwards when I might have otherwise abandoned the attempt.

Then I joined Twitter, and in the first week I grew a network of around a thirty I followed and thirty who followed me, give or take after you deleted the spammers. Readership doubled again; Facebook readers remained and tweeps came and retweeted. The next week I had about a hundred following and a hundred followers (my ratios are good, huh?), and readership doubled again to over a hundred independent viewers.

That’s five weeks (six minus the foundation week), and my blog has grown by two to the fifth power. I don’t see any reason that the growth will stop until I run out of tweeps, and I feel convinced that I’m barely touching Facebook’s real potential at this point.

Even so, the differences, to me, go like this: dropping an ad into Facebook is like dropping a penny into a pool. A small splash, the water ripples for you, and the penny sinks. Dropping an ad into Twitter is like dropping a penny into Jell-o; it riggles along until you drop something else in it.

As for the following piece, I apologize only to Jennie. You asked me not to write about you; too bad.

**

Aside from porn, I in my youth never had a consistent form of sex in my life. The girls I knew were horny, and I knew how to push those buttons, but they were also smart, wily, and conflicted.

One time during college I took Justin to my friend Ashley’s house. I had just broken up with Christina and he was about to leave for Marine boot camp, so I worked out a little double date for us with Ashley and her friend Holly. I intended for Ashley to give Justin a thrill to remember Plano by before he went away, but he was too straight edge for an offer like that, or else he was just downright embarrassed by the straightforward nature of the scenario.

Justin said that he didn’t know what to do, wouldn’t know how to handle our dear Ashley. So I showed him: I walked up behind Ashley, pulled her chin to the side, and attacked her neck with gentle nibbles. She moaned, she shuddered, and she asked me incredulously, “How do you do that?”

The scene reminded me of the one time in high school when Ashley and I almost got together, the time that essentially guaranteed we never would. Younger, seventeen, I had invited her to my home in order to invite her to prom. She hesitated, and I told her to take her time. We laid down on a couch together and watched The Princess Bride. She had her back to me, pressed against me, and I cupped her breasts with my hands, ran them down her swimmer’s body. She turned hot, and then she got up and walked away. We didn’t go to prom together.

When I left Justin alone with Ashley in her living room, Holly acted in the same way as Ashley had. Young, virginal, she squirmed against the carpet of Ashley’s bedroom when I poured cold strawberry sauce on her neck. She let me ravish her with my hands and tongue, neither asking me to stop nor initiating anything herself. I could taste the heat of her blood under her skin; I had my hands down her pants, rubbing her as she panted. She told me not to stop, but I asked her if she wanted to go further. Eventually, still in each other’s arms, we fell asleep. She left in the morning, and nothing ever became of it.

Jennie had the same initiative to not-sex that Holly had, the same seemingly religious impulse that contradicted directly with her will to fleshy desires. Her motivational conflict resulted in sinusoidal sexual patterns. Three weeks on, three weeks off. My pillow talk verges on the ridiculous, so we’d have sex and then talk about religion, her relationship with God, the pursuit of truth in my life. Perhaps I cyclically inspired her religious fervor; perhaps she was fucking with me under the guise of religion. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where sincerity ends and emotional games begin.

And yet I’m a man who respects principles, never the one to force the issue of sex where it’s not mutual. Perhaps this lack of a will to power on my part is what leads to what seems like an inevitable disappointment in my relationships: that the girls I date, though educated, expect the male to take the sexual lead, to direct the sexual course. If so, how chauvinistic, and what a lack of interest in my desires.

I want the girl to be interested. I yearn to please her, no matter how shallow our relationship is. I want her to enjoy being pursued, to give remuneration. I’ll only go so far before they initiate a next step: there’s nothing I hate more than a cold fish.

Jennie and I eventually came to an end over this misfortune. One day after another three-week asexual stint, she came over to bed me again. By the time she left, I knew that I’d had enough.

And yet I’d put up with much the same treatment from my very next girlfriend, Christina. Our relationship really comes in two parts: sophomore year and senior year. The whole of our sophomore ride, though sexual, lacked sex. She spoke of respect and fear and how she was still a virgin, though I highly doubt whether that statement was true. Still, I respected her wishes, and we kissed and fondled and I went down on her without her going down on me. And we didn’t sex, contrary to my mother’s belief.

One day during that sophomore year I had come home with Christina to introduce her to my family. Of course my parents were aware that I had had a sexual adolescence, much to my mother’s annoyance. Christina and I were upstairs watching a movie in the main upstairs room, one open to anyone who walks up the stairs and where my father spent a good deal of his time during those years. Because of the projection TV, we had the lights off.

Mother called up the stairs, “Greg, turn those lights on!”

“We’re watchin’ a movie, ma!” I hollered back. Christina had fallen asleep; she lifted her head off my shoulder.

My mother yelled, “Turn them on, Greg! I know what you do with girls up there in the dark!”

I looked Christina in the face after my mother said this; she had turned ashen, mortified. I felt embarrassed on her behalf, stood up, and marched downstairs without pausing the movie. Mother retreated into the backyard, and I pursued her. Of course, the TV room was only separated from the backyard by a thin window, and I’m relatively sure Christina heard every word we shouted.

“Mom, I’m not having sex with her.”

“Oh, bullshit!” My mother using profanity was rare; though she allowed it from my sister, she had slapped me the one time I had used it around her.

“She’s a good girl, ma! She doesn’t want to do stuff like that.”

She snorted a laugh. “That’s what Elvis said about Marilyn Monroe, and no one believed him either!”

I balked. “What?”

My mother’s finger shot into the air and shook with the exaggerated tremble of her angered body: “Elvis and Marilyn Monroe!”

A lull entered our conversation. I asked, “Are you serious?” I gave her a few seconds to answer before I finished, “Well, I guess that’s it, then.”

Christina and I broke up not too much later though for an unrelated reason. At the time, the reasons had seemed plentiful and the complaints against one another could have doubled as a code of law, but I recognize after some distance from our relationship that the split basically resulted from a mutual dislike of having a long distance relationship over the summer; she’d return to Houston and I to Dallas. Officially she broke up with me while she had me trapped in her Chevrolet Malibu on a long car ride out of town through rural roads. But I didn’t fight too hard to keep her around, either.

That summer I worked a menial job, a temporary night-shift construction gig that paid fairly well and let me destroy things. I called Christina every few nights to let her know how much I missed her until one night I perhaps overdid it, singing her a song that was playing on the CD player of my truck. When the song was over, she told me that she didn’t miss me and that we were through. She hung up, and I went back to work.

Bryan, Michelle, and Sydney came to my house a week later, and we all got sloshed on spirits, playing drinking games with Irish cream and vanilla vodka. Sydney and I slipped off to my bedroom while Michelle and Bryan caught up and made out; it was my first actual sex since I had broken up with Jennie, the first time in my life that I had had sex drunk, and the only time I had sex drunk with someone I wasn’t having sex with regularly sober. Of course it was a mistake.

One of the reasons Christina had broken up with me was Sydney’s reintroduction to my life. She had asked me to promise her that I would never cheat on her, and in one of the more controversial moments of my life, I had refused. Very few friends of mine have agreed with my refusal or my reasons for giving it.

I don’t make promises I can’t keep. In one of the introductory moments of my relationship with Christina, she had asked me to promise that I would never make her cry. I refused that request as well. She had smiled then, pleased with my candor. On this occasion, though, my blunt honesty seemed to her a fault.

I’m a writer, defined in my terms mostly as a person with an over-active imagination coupled with the disposition to record his thoughts. As a child, my parents caught me in any number of obvious lies, since I let my imagination run away with me. I grew older, though, and as I did I tried to reel in my mind’s propensity for exaggeration. The method I underwent in this pursuit was an evaluation of the human condition, an amateur exploration into why humans do the silly things they do. In this vein—a path which included observing my friends, asking them to observe me, and any art with a psychological angle I could ingest—I discovered that humans are capable of quite a few very silly actions, not the least of which is unexpected infidelity; and by unexpected I don’t mean that his partner doesn’t suspect (most suspicion is unwarranted, and most warranted suspicion is put aside), but that the person himself does not suspect.

The most common argument against this analysis of the human scene is that there’s always choice. At some point in the inception of an affair, an attached lover has to choose to cheat on his significant other. In my opinion, such a view shows the thinker’s naiveté: to assume that any given person chooses before he acts generally gives that person too much credit; people act for any number of unconscious reasons—unconscious here implies a lack of choice, which must be conscious—and in an attempt to explain such actions attempt to insert their motivation, usually foolhardily and in direct contradiction to the actor’s situation. Therefore, unexpected infidelity occurs; not only does it occur, I believe (possibly through my own inexperience with infidelity) it is the norm.

For this promise Christina asked, and I refused not because Sydney herself, a drugged up pitiable slut approaching me primarily for my pity and presumably for my help, was a threat to our relationship but rather according the principle, perhaps silly and idealistic: I won’t make promises I can’t keep. Any married man will tell you that’s no way to make a relationship work, and it’s not. But I’m nothing if not idealistic.

Sad and drunk, I fucked Sydney and enjoyed through an alcoholic haze my first experience with sloppy, self-serving, and artificially extended drunken sex. She left, and I didn’t see her again for weeks. Sydney called me and asked if we could get together again, but I refused her offers. She’d ask me if we could just be friends, say that she needed my friendship. I would take her to a movie to find out; in the dark we’d hold hands, then the kissing started, and by the end I was so excited for the sex to come that I accidentally backed my truck into a light pole. So, no, I guess at that point that I, without other recourse for sex, and she willing to give sex, could not just be friends. I didn’t see her again before she left for the Air Force.

I did, however, have to call her again. Shortly after our sport fucks my urethra itched and urinating at first began to hurt and then to sear, to burn. When I examined my penis, I saw that the skin around the urethra had turned scaly and looked like the dried-out remains of a sunburn. I called my family doctor and made an appointment; when I arrived, he asked me to remove my shorts and lay down on his table. I did, and he shoved a cotton swap inside me; the sudden sharp pain caused my body to tense involuntarily, and my hands flinched. He laughed, saying, “I bet you’ll remember this before you go sleeping with loose girls again.” Later, when I told my first primary care physician in Boston about the experience, my doctor would tell me that painless screens for STDs have existed since the mid-nineties but that some doctors still prefer to use the swab just to reinforce sexual morality. Good for him, I guess, but as you’ll see soon, dear reader, it hardly worked.

I had Chlamydia, a bacterial infection easily cleared up by antibiotics within a week. I called Sydney to let her know that I had gotten it and that she might want to be screened herself, and she became indignant, told me that I couldn’t possibly have gotten it from her. I told her that it had been over a year since I’d had sex with anyone else, and she maintained that I was mistaken. I asked her who else she had currently been sleeping with, and she mentioned some guy I didn’t know out in Allen who could find out on his own just how painful the disease was. My friend Bryan told me, though, that she was having sex with his brother Jay as well, and I felt compelled to warn him; when Sydney found out why Jay had stopped having sex with her, she called me up, chewed me out for violating her privacy, and refused to speak to me ever again, a promise which lasted a few years and ended with little or no real effect since without a real need for my pity Sydney has little reason to keep in touch with me.

I’d have a few other sporadic sexual partners throughout the first semester of my junior year. The most significant of these were the two intellectual extremes, Emily the education major who never let the contradiction between her devout views on conservative Christianity and her open sexual policies bother her and Courtney the educated debater who evidenced a disparity between knowledge of books and of the world usually reserved for romantic novels.

I don’t remember how Emily and I found each other, only that the first time she approached me about sex she asked if we could get drunk first. I refused, and she said she’d drink before she came over. I told her that if she showed up drunk I wouldn’t have sex with her; if she couldn’t fuck me sober, she wouldn’t fuck me at all. She agreed, and so the affair started. Twice a week we’d get together, and she progressively climbed the kinky ladder until she went past where I was interested in going, which was where we stopped: Sex itself contents me for a long while, and I don’t need any spices added to it until the repeated flavor makes itself monotonous. She wanted to start off on the heavy side, and my lack of interest caused her to pull away.

Courtney was something altogether different, a student from one of the courses I was peer instructing, just the sort of relationship I had promised myself not to get into when I took the job. However, my responsibilities included entertaining the students and getting them involved with social groups on campus (Goal number one is student retention!), and I had invited a few of the students over to meet my friends and to attend various parties. The male students I invited declined, but the females came in a small pack of three: Sarah, Andrea, and Courtney.

One day during Thanksgiving break when most of our friends had left but she and I remained, she came over to watch a movie with me. It started friendly enough, sitting on my couch together. Then she leaned against my shoulder, and I tensed. Her head fell to my lap, and I didn’t push her off. She mentioned that she felt cold, asked me to lay down with her; I removed the back cushions of the couch and put my left arm under her head and my right hand on the flat of her stomach; even through her shirt I could tell that she had lied.

Courtney had fallen asleep by the time the movie was over, and she unconsciously nuzzled into my arm. I tried to get up without waking her, but she came two and yawned that she had better get going. I walked with her out my front door and down the cement steps to her car. She opened the door, and right when I was about to thank fate for letting me out of this pickle without too much drama, she turned and asked me for a hug. I put my arms over her shoulders and slid my hands down her back, pulling her in a soft and sensual hug. Her breasts pushed into the soft tissue of my stomach just under my ribs; the wire of her bra tinged the excitement with discomfort.

“What is this?” she asked me. “What are we?”

I sighed and looked away from her, loosening my arms.

“Couldn’t we be together?” She had heard my arguments against dating my students, but it wasn’t forbidden; it was just something I had decided not to do. Cheers to my moral stamina, since that was the only boundary between what she wanted and what I’d give her.

I still wasn’t looking at her when I said, “I’d rather not.”

She moved her arms in between us, placing her forearms vertically against my chest. When I turned my head to look down at her, I saw that she was searching my eyes for a tiny flicker of passion to kindle her hope, her slightly pouting lips complementing her expression. I kissed her suddenly and stepped past my qualms without much difficulty.

We dated for several months. She met my parents in the spring, and they liked her, a first in my young life. Around my friends and at parties, we would make out, falling asleep together on the carpet of my living room so as not to blur her strict Christian principles, which kept her from wanting to go further. We talked about her religion, which I was only beginning to move away from completely at the time, and about the affect of learning how to debate on children, which in my opinion is to stunt the process of forming a personality by means of restraining spiritual nutrition (that is, restraining the child’s ability to gestate opinions and information outside of his field of hand-me-down beliefs). Her opinion was somewhat different.

One day she came over and we went into my room together. The lights out, we kissed in my bed. My hands roamed and then she directed them; my teeth pinched and then she moaned, breathed heavily. For the first time, I put my hands under her shirt and felt her flesh, the studs of the aureole. Following my own desires, I reached down and unbuckled her pants, rubbed my hand over the top of her simple white cotton panties. She lifted her hips, pushing against my hand so that I could feel her rough pubic hair through the soft cloth.

I pulled my hand away, stopped kissing her, and sat up. I can only imagine the look on my face as strained and irritable.

“What’s wrong?” she asked me, her voice strained with more confusion than worry.

My hormones and the tease of the situation brought out my grumpiness, perhaps to an unjustifiable extent. “I shouldn’t have to stop myself for your sake,” I said. “You’re a smart girl and willful. You know that you don’t want to go this far.”

Now fear started to creep into her; she sounded a bit like a mouse: “I know. Thank you, though.”

“Don’t thank me for holding you to your morals. Stop yourself next time!”

She placed her left hand on my arm, but I stood up and walked away. “You should go.”

Courtney didn’t say much as she buttoned her pants and adjusted her bra. She asked me if I was sure, and I hugged her and kissed her cheek and told her I’d see her tomorrow.

Of course I didn’t. A couple of weeks went by before she finally sent me an email about how things wouldn’t have gone any farther than they did, which made me laugh a little to myself. It also said that she felt afraid because she knew she wouldn’t have been able to stop me if I had decided to continue. I let out a bark of a laugh and replied with something terse and nasty. For some reason, we’re awkward around each other every time we happen to see each other these days.

Sometime in this period, Jennie came back into the picture, our lack of serious relationship putting her religious qualms to bed, I suppose. She pinged me out of the blue one day, asked me whether I’d be willing to hook up with her if she just came over that evening, and that was the beginning of something casual and fun that ended when she began to date Mani.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Criticism, Humanistic, Writing

Starbucks: The third place

Dear readers, commentators, and friends,

I cannot begin to express my surprise and gratitude at the readership surge in this blog. I passed several important new-blog milestones Friday night, a claim followed by boring stats that you can skip past if not inerested: having more than a hundred visitors in one day and breaking a thousand views to the site total. Further, breaking one hundred in a day was itself a caveat: the highest day before had only seen ninety-seven viewers, and the day afterwards [sic] had seen just over sixty. Friday, though, I have one-hundred and sixteen views, followed by a Saturday of exactly one-hundred and sixteen views. Even on Sunday, with no new post for days and very little advertising from me, I reached what only a week ago would’ve been stupendous. Thank you, seriously, for supporting the effort.

I have spent so much more time developing this site than I thought I would, and I have so many plans now for the future, long before I ever thought that I would need them. Soon, though, you’ll see the first item on my to-do list, a Featured Fan story about Kate Barkhurst, an old friend from highschool and faithful Facebook friend. Thank you, everyone, and look forward to more stories from me, more guest posts, featured fans articles, and more… you know… as I get around to doing it.

My best,
Greg

**

They don’t understand, they haven’t listened to me. They called me arrogant. They’ve had all semester to see who I am, to see how I resent that label, and yet they called me arrogant. Not only said it, but spit it in my face, an accusation that seemed to say, “You can never succeed as a writer.” They read it, and they missed the point. All of them.

No, not all. There was Jenny. Jenny understood the torment of miscommunication; of course she knew what it was like to speak and yet not be heard. So sweet and so deep, she writes about moving from China to Boston as an experience of change, a flowing river of time and philosophy that soaks and bathes her mind. But writers as audience largely gloss over grammatical mistakes (as they should), and ink-on-paper doesn’t communicate in accents.

I think, and the other students notice it, too, that her writing is permeated by beauty over frustration. She writes so well, one might assume because of passion and integrity. But I have passion and integrity, too, and where does that get me? Labeled as arrogant is all, and alone. I suppose it’s about as lonely and isolating as not speaking the language of the land you’re in, but you hope in that other circumstance there remains the mysticism of discovery, or at least the obvious route of escape. For me there’s only years of letdowns, my adolescence into my waking life, of conversational successes mired by literary failures.

The cold wind of Boston winters blows through the Public Gardens and against my wool coat. I can feel its malevolence despite scientific objectivity having drowned out the world; the wind wants to bite my skin, wants to punish me for protecting myself from its harshness. Nature wants, like all life, love, to receive love as it exists, to receive without bending. My coat speaks for me my refusal of the unspoken request. My hands hide inside my pockets’ cashmere lining, helping the buttons to hold the coat in place. I had felt so sexy the day I bought this coat, had looked at myself in mirrors to memorize the way it weight and thickness complemented my girth rather than hid it, the day I thought there might be something to expensive designer labels after all. I remember the deflation upon coming home, of Sarah meh-ing her apathetic approval.

The wind cuts through my khakis instead since they’re exposed underneath the three-quarters coat. I’ve worn my Starbucks uniform to class for the last few weeks, thin-material long-sleeved block polo with dark khaki pants. Since money from Fidelity finally ran out and Sarah started asking me to pay her back for mostly legitimate expenses—to which I did not contributing but neither, really, did she—I had to get the job, and now I’m at class and at work, never at home. Sarah misses me, comes to Starbucks sometimes to sit with me, but I’ve had years to resent her attention, loath her presence. The absence of both in preference to her laptop drove me into romantic despair. World of Warcraft didn’t help on that topic, though it did relieve some of the years’ boredom.

The reading of my colleagues has broken my heart. I take criticism well—I write and people talk about the writing, and I love them for pointing out errors and paths I haven’t noticed—but like lay readers, my fellows decided to psychoanalyze me. They had done it before, when I wrote about my relationship with Sarah, talking about how sad I must be instead of the impact of the piece on the abstract reader and how that impact could be improved. The saying goes that these days everyone’s a critic, but that’s not quite the case in my experience; everyone is a psychologist, everyone thinks that they understand you by slapping their archetypes onto you, especially the ones who tell you (not ask you) not to judge. Not “Please don’t judge me until I’ve told you the whole story, or perhaps until you’ve researched it yourself,” but, “Don’t judge me, you don’t know me!” Of course, the latter ones are right; I don’t know them and never will.

I walk under the monument to ether, the world’s first anesthetic, used first at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846. “We have conquered pain,” it reads. If only the words spoke truth. The wind blows again, cuts again at my shins savagely like a rusted and knocked razor.

I want to speak with someone about the disappointment. No one thought the writing was poor; the professor spoke its praises in that regard. The students merely wanted to ask me who the fuck I thought I was, in the nicest phrasing possible. But on that ground, I thought the piece stated rather clearly exactly who I claim to be.

I can’t talk to Sarah about this. She’d listen, but she’s cold, lacking in empathy. Or she has empathy and doesn’t show it. In four years, or in six if I count our friendship, I haven’t figured out which is the case.

I could go to Starbucks. It’s almost on the way home, less than a block from Sarah’s Back Bay condo, but I opened this morning and sat at a table once I got off shift until I had to leave for school at five. I literally sat there all day, and now I’d go back to do what, to stew? After all, who would I talk to? I’ve been there three months, but I’m not really friends with anyone. I go to work, I do homework, I play World of Warcraft; that’s me condensed. And when I got home, what? Sarah will already have gone to bed, not that I’ve joined her in months, and I’d stay up all night—til four, maybe five, maybe six—playing World of Warcraft, trying not to talk on the microphone so that I can relish in secret human contact in my home.

The churches at Berkeley Street, the Lutheran one with the homeless person (gender unidentifiable; I default to male) in the wool coat that I pass every night as I sing along to my iPod, so separate from his condition and just as vague a character to him as he is to me—but I’m not listening to music tonight, fuming instead; tonight, for the first time, he watches me, but I don’t mind—and the other one with the largely ignored cement hole. Clarendon, the rundown yard with the painted-black metal staircase and the door to the garden. The Newbury Street sidewalks, bricks that speak of old money, the townhomes broken into condos that lament the money’s loss. The plasma screens, shining vibrant blues and greens off beige walls, reflected off faux crystal chandeliers except that one home with the library, the dusty old tomes and the ladder on the right side; their crystal shines legit, reflecting white light off white walls.

But I have a friend at Starbucks, Ashley. But not quite a friend. She’s attracted to me, she told me so. Why would I call her? For an ego fest, so I can gain some pride off of how attractive she finds me? I don’t think so. I told her that rainy day that she walked me to Emerson that I wouldn’t turn her into a ’50s cliché, some girl hanging onto a man who says he’ll leave his wife (girlfriend) but never will, and I won’t. We had sat on the steps outside the piano shop, and she had told me that she couldn’t play the piano—not well, anyway. She had looked at me and told me she liked me, confessionally. She waited, seeing what I would do with it. I watched the automatic piano play a tune, and then I rubbed my hand down her cheek and told her that I wouldn’t abuse her. There she is; she is there.

She won’t be, though: she told me that the schedule marked her off at eight and it’s almost ten. She’ll have gone home, have left for the day, and I’ll be just as alone and just as forlorn as I feel now.

Call Mani instead. Call Steve. Call Justin and Mom and Dad. Consider calling Allison, and really feel like an asshole. Resent the way Murphy’s law applies to people answering their phones when you actually need human connection.

“Hello?” she asks.

“Hi, Ashley. I’ve got a strange question for you.”

“Yes?”

“You wouldn’t happen to still be at Starbucks, would you? I mean, I know you’ve probably left for the day.”

“No, actually. I’m here.” A thrill hits my spine between the shoulders and shivers its way down, the thrill of success; necessity or fortune falling into place I can’t tell, but it doesn’t matter and this is what I wanted, what I needed, to cut short the onslaught of despair. “Someone didn’t show up for their shift, and I stayed late to cover.”

Pause. Blink. Consider.

“I need—” But do I really want to do this to her, to rely on her when I don’t know how things are going to go with Sarah, when I can’t even pin down my feelings for a girl I just met at work, not to mention the girl I’ve loved for four years? Do I really want to be that asshole?

“I need someone to talk to.”

“I’m here.” She laughs, and weight falls away.

“Do you have anywhere you need to be? Do you need to go home?”

“No, I’m here, and I can stay. You should come. I want to listen.”

I turned left and walked down Dartmouth to Boylston, along the broad brick pathway of the private school, across the tree-lined Commonwealth Mall, and passed they dying Newbury Street. If I had gone to Exeter, Sarah might have seen me and asked where I was going. No, I turned left, kicking a pebble in the process.

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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

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.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Criticism, Philosophy/Theology