Tag Archives: Writing

An empty city

“Basket Case,” Kiran said. “That song is my life right now.”

“Am I the the shrink or the whore?” I opened iTunes and typed in Green Day. No results. My harddrive crashed recently, amputating my music library.

“I dunno,” he answered. “Before you asked that, I would have said the shrink.”

I asked, “And now?” I left the room to rifle through my CD collection, grabbed two Green Day CDs: INTERNATIONAL SUPERHITS! and American Idiot.

“I dunno.”

Rip “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known. I don’t know where it goes.
I walk this empty street on the boulevard of broken dreams. The whole city sleeps and I’m the only one, I walk alone.

My song for while I was working the overnight shift for Allied Barton. Not that I listened to it while working there–I don’t even think I had it at the time–but I can’t listen to it now without thinking about that time.

In those hours boston was my city, those dark, starless hours of night, all the lights of Mass General were on and all the roads unused. I owned the city for a few lonely but potent moments. A civilization’s infrastructure at my disposal for no particular purpose: I did not have the wheels the concrete was placed down for; I had no use for the buildings around me.

Near 11pm, I would leave my rowhouse on Cambridge Street, and then I felt like Prufrock, awkward in my stiff short-sleeve Oxford and uncomfortable blackish uniform pants. One night some girls stopped to flirt with me, drunk enough to think a collared man in a hurry would make fair sport. Another night, an SUV drove by and a man leaned out the window and yelled URKLE at me. My hope is that he was drunk, too.

Left onto Blossom, and the Holiday Inn attendants always looked at me funny. I was the wrong color and income bracket to work an overnight security shift, and they all knew it. It took me a few years to realize it, but at its core Boston is a racist town, and I was taking a good job away from a black man who was likely in more need of regular money than me.

Do I need to defend these statements? All but two of my coworkers were black, one an overweight white man and one a Latina. My manager was black, as were his bosses. The only healthy whites I saw worked in corporate, where the color ratio was again established in a way I had seen before, white majority. Everyone at Hawthorne had worked the job for years, the young ones only four but the oldest among them for fifteen and twenty. I only stayed for four months, and I could see it in the Holiday Inn workers’ eyes that even they knew I wasn’t cut out for the work.

Hours alone in my little office. Close both windows and turn on the space heater; it’s the only way to get by in those Boston nights. The winter chill settled into Boston around one each night, though none of the daydwellers would ever know because the more comfortable fall weather came back with the morning sun. Do some homework. Get restless. Wonder why you don’t write, and then don’t. Wonder why you don’t, ad infinitum.

On my break at three o’clock, the city held a different story. Ashley liked me to come home on these breaks even though she had to wake up in the morning, so I would walk home. I lingered in the streets, daring cars to round the bend and give me a thrill of fear, but none ever did. Brick rose up as high as my limited perspective could see, and fluorescent lights flooded into the streets, and no one ever disturbed the windows.

I liked to walk through the hospital’s campus instead of around the corner with the gas station–the homeless didn’t go into those streets because of the private security patrol–but either way I had to pass the oxygen tanks, which for some reason reeked of death and fungus every night. Fog fell off them like a cheap movie stunt, which always put me in the mood for an adventure with a building caddycorner:

At one point a rowhouse, MGH had snatched it up and turned it into some research facility, the windows boarded up so no one could look in and yet things definitely went on in there. Someone had also posted a Biohazard sign near the door, RFID’d and coded rather than just locked. Now the building stood isolated on the corner of two small streets, surrounded on one side by a parking lot and the other by a parking structure. What exactly went on in that dilapidated building that they hadn’t just torn it down like the others for more parking space? Were there people in there now, as I passed by? Was the zombie apocalypse going to begin across the street from my home? Could this be the exact scenario by which writers come to write scary movies and zombie apocalypses? And then, because every night I would forget, a blast of warm and humid air smacked me in the face, and it smelled almost like exhaust against the cold and crisp night air. Every night with that fucking vent. And then I’d be at Cambridge Street and then home.

Only once did I disturb a man sleeping in my building’s entryspace. I opened the open door and reach my key out towards the lock on the closed door, and there underneath me was an apologetic man: I’m so sorry, he said as he scrambled to get something together on the floor, perhaps the never-attended-to and always-accumulating stack of Beacon Hill Times. Flustered, I told him, “It’s no problem,” but I had to wait for him to leave before I could move into the building. It made me sad when I came back down that night and he wasn’t there; I would not have begrudged him a night’s sleep.

Kalli would always hear me climbing up the four flights of stairs, and she would hop out of bed with a thunderous clomp as her long nails hit the wood floor. Then she would skitter in front of the door until I opened it like a young child capable of waiting with excitement at any time of day. Clip clip clip her nails would click, waking Ashley just enough so that when I came in she could say, “Hi, honey,” before turning over and falling back asleep. I would kiss her before going into the kitchen to reheat my dinner, and out of sympathy I would sit with my laptop in the living room and do something silent. Always during the day she would say she liked it better when I sat in the bedroom to eat.

When did I start playing World of Warcraft again? That job, that Allied Barton job, played a direct hand in it, as did Ashley wanting me to be awake on the weekends to spend time with her. At least twice per week I had to change my sleep schedule, and for a while TV was enough to stay up for thirty-six hours, but always after watching enough TV I’ll start playing video games: one is a much more engaging format than the other. And though Ashley knew the role WoW had played in the dissolution of my relationship with Sarah, her fight against it was minimal. Sometimes then, after scarfing dinner, I would watch quietly a TV show; later I would log into WoW and do part of the leveling to 80. On occasion I would jot notes that had filled my head while walking home.

**

Whew, that’s about as much as I can get down this morning. I hope it’s worth something to someone other than me, even if it’s not finished.

1 Comment

Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing

Theme Thursday: Fast food

**Special Note**

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

**

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

Guidelines

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

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

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

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

The Original:

N/A

The remix:

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Comment

Filed under Criticism, Features, Humanistic, Personal essay, Theme Thursdays, Writing

Story embryo: The Homeless Youth of the Silver Line

You can see a million miles tonight, but you can’t get very far. -Counting Crows

**

This is a story about a morning where I sacrificed nothing.

“Thank you so much for coming with me, honey.” Even at five in the morning, she’s bushy-tailed, light-hearted. She’s a morning person, my sweet buoyant Ashley.

“It’s nothing, honey. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Then I smiled and said, “You know, unless I had only got three hours of sleep last night.”

She stuffed clothes quickly into her bag. “That’s not funny. I was very disappointed that morning.”

“I know, honey.” I rubbed my dry eyes again, hoping to moisten the sandy sleep away.

“It’s amazing how many more clothes you can fit in a bag when you fold them,” she stated. I laughed, but only in the back of my mind so she wouldn’t hear. She said, still folded over her red rolling backpack, “You’d better start getting ready. Are you going to take a shower?”

I rubbed at my eyes again before answering, “No.” I looked at her then and said, “I love you.”

“I love you, too. Now come on!”

I pulled some jeans out of my dirty clothes pile and put them on. I put on the first green shirt I pulled out of my dresser, but it had some crusty white filth around the waist so I took it off even though it smelled clean and through it in the dirty clothes bin. The next green shirt was just fine.

She asked, “Will you bring the suitcase downstairs and call the dog up for me?” I nodded, and she leashed Kalli and left.

I stumbled around the house for the next minute trying to get everything in order: I pulled my passport and keys out of my work khakis in the dirty clothes bin and then went out to the living room to grab my wallet and iPod. I shoved everything roughly into their corresponding pockets and then went to the kitchen to grab a glass of water. The difference between the living room and kitchen in this 420 sq. ft. apartment is floor type: most of the apartment is hardwood–the norm in Boston–but the kitchen is cheap, thin linoleum. But no wall separates the room, and I scan the coffee table and small dining table in the living room from the kitchen counter where I’m drinking the water to make sure I haven’t left anything behind.

The door buzzes and I press the buttons that open the front door for Ashley. I walk out into the staircase and whistle down the four flights so that Kalli can hear me and will come up. I hear Ashley shooing her and shake my head: she should know by now that Kalli won’t come upstairs unless whoever walked her leaves. Kalli likes to be chased.

As Kalli starts to come up, Finny boldly sticks his nose over the threshold of our apartment’s door. The tiger cat is generally scared of me, especially when the front door is open, but last night and today he’s been especially bold about his intention to escape. When Kalli rounds the third floor landing, Finny bolts for the staircase up to the roof. He usually bolts downstairs, so I’m a little tickled by the change.

I reach for him, but he skitters further up and away from me. I mutter, “Come on, man, really?” and pursue him. When I reach for him, his claws dig into the thin rough carpet, so I scoop him forward a little bit to loosen him. I can feel his little heart through his ribs beating frantically, and he starts to turn this way and that, desperate to escape. The reaction is also strange for him, usually so calm even when he’s in trouble and scared, but I just shrug it off and set him down gently in our front hall, where he looks up at me as if he’s confused, perhaps having expected something worse.

“It’s okay, Finny,” I say before moving to the closet to grab my coat, which I unhook from its hangar and put on. The hangar is the one that came with the coat and itself stands out from the rest of the apartment: I bought it when I was working at Fidelity, when I was living high on the hog, and the polished wood and gold-plated wiring represents a financial status not otherwise shown in our impoverished home: a bed without a frame, books still in boxes because we can afford bookshelves, even our furniture which is not even from Ikea but rather from the Goodwill or found for free through Craigslist. The home is almost entirely patchworked, ghetto-rigged; the hangar is singular, hiding in the closet only to hold my coat.

Which itself is as singular. I feel awkward telling people about my financial situation when I’m wearing it, a black wool Calvin Klien three-quarters length coat with silk and cashmere lining. I bought it at Macy’s on a whim because I had the extra money and a maternal coworker had urged me. Now the lining in ripped at both places where the coat rests against my pants pockets and one place in the back, perhaps where I sat on it awkwardly once. I can’t dream of getting it relined anytime soon; I haven’t even looked into the cost.

“Aw, thanks, honey!” Ashley cooes when she sees me round the last landing with her suitcase. I walk down the last flight of stairs and answer, “No problem. How cold is it outside?”

“Not so bad,” she says.

“Should I put on my scarf and hat?”

“No, it’s not so bad,” she says again.

But when we walk outside it feels like it’s less than ten degrees, cold for December even in Boston, and I don’t get a block before I put on my silk scarf and hat, accessory purchases to the coat. We chitchat idly on our way to the Charles/MGH T station. Even when the train comes and we board, sitting next to each other, the talk is much the same: two weeks until we see each other again, and it’s too bad about her grandmother, and remember that time we walked all the way to Government Center instead of just getting on at MGH, and I’ll be fine and don’t worry about me. Ashley is a caregiver; she likes to dote.

When we get to South Station I point out the entry to the Silver Line buses and follow her towards them. The top of the stairs is slightly clouded, and when we get there the smell of burnt rubber offends us. The air is thick with white smoke. She coughs and I hold my scarf to my nose, but nothing avails us. As we move off to the left towards the SL1-Logan part of the station, the cloud dissipates quickly, and when we turn around we can see it in its entirety: a fifteen-foot obstructed sphere of nastiness. I shake my head to clear away the smell, and we cluster around her suitcase, hugging and kissing our goodbyes.

“Excuse me,” a young male voice calls out loudly enough that we know he’s talking to everyone on the platform. I turn my head to see a hooded youth in a thin red vest with a long sleeve shirt and pants. His red eyes and the gray hollows around them show that he’s tired, exhausted. “I was wondering if I could get a dollar from any of you so I could get a coat from the Goodwill. See, they handed out coats last night, but they ran out and I was one of a few that couldn’t get one. But they’re selling them, and I just need fifteen dollars, and I just need a coat. It’s so cold out there I can’t stand it; I can’t even leave the station.”

He had whiskers around his face, probably five days of growth. And he did look tired and cold. Ashley said that she didn’t have any cash on her, but I had two dollars that she had given me the day before in my wallet.

“I’m not going to get drugs,” he said. Nobody had responded, though a handful of the thirty or so people around watched him idly. “It’s just so cold, I just want a coat. And I’m so tired, I haven’t slept in days–”

I thought of Rich and how he couldn’t sleep when he had been homeless

“–and it’s just so cold. Just fifteen dollars and I can get a coat,” he mumbled. His voice began to crack, and his eyes turned even more red, and tears beaded inside them. He didn’t cry, though, and he regained his composure.

“Do you want to?” I asked Ashley.

“I don’t have any money,” she said. I pulled out the two dollars and gave them to her, and she gave them to him, and he thanked us briefly and quietly and moved along the crowd to see if there were any others who might give. We heard him mumble as he shuffled his feet, “It’s just so hard, and I’m so cold, and I need some help. It’s shit like this that makes me border-line suicidal,” at which point I saw fear flash through Ashley’s eyes, but I just held her close and pressed my cheek against her forehead. “I’m getting Section 8 housing on the twenty-eighth,” he continued, “but I can’t wait that long. I can’t wait that long. And it’s so cold.”

“It’s a good thing he’s getting Section 8,” Ashley said.

“But the twenty-eighth is so far away,” I answered.

“You’re not thinking of inviting him back to our place, are you?” she asked. We had done it before, once, with Rich, but I said “No, that’s just when Kiran’s coming in.”

About three minutes later the SL1 showed up and nobody had given him any more money. He grumbled about people with so much that couldn’t even give him a dollar to help him get a coat. “I can’t ask one person for fifteen dollars,” he said, “but I can ask fifteen for one. But I’m not even getting that,” he said, and he looked at me as I boarded the bus. “It’s one out of sixty, and always someone like you that gives me more than what I’m asking for. Thank you,” he said, and I nodded, boarded the bus, and left him there. He didn’t try to hussle me or get anything else from me, and I didn’t see where he went off to.

A young woman in a white half-coat, maybe in her early thirties, ran onto the bus after me. “Oh, was he begging for money?” she asked. I said yeah. “He should get a job. Everywhere is hiring.” I said yeah again and sat down with Ashley. The woman sat down across the aisle.

I told Ashley, “I almost gave my hat to a woman at Harvard yesterday.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Some homeless woman who was selling Spare Change. She looked so sad and cold. I wanted to give her my hat, but I couldn’t’ve replaced it.”

Ashley said, “I should’ve told him that I bought my coat at the Goodwill for fourteen dollars. That might’ve made him feel better.”

“Yes, it might have. You know, he’s the sort of character I should be searching out. He would’ve made a good article.”

“Yeah!” Ashley exclaimed, suddenly animated. “You could do like a collage of portraits of homeless people, like a years worth of people, where they go and what they do and why they’re there. That would be so interesting.”

“A similar article in The New Yorker back in the fifties helped launch them to national prominence,” I mentioned. “I can’t remember the name of the journalist, but he wrote about a homeless man named Joe Gould. And there was another at the turn of the century, I can’t remember that journalist’s name, either, who dressed himself up in rags and wrote about New York’s homeless population and how they get by.”

“Oh, so it’s not really new?” she asked, disappointed.

“Well, not sparkling new, but that doesn’t mean I can’t bring something to the table those authors didn’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“In each of those cases, homelessness was treated as something novel; it was exoticized, like it’s a foreign state that nobody knows anything about. But that’s not really the case today, people just treat it so flippantly, with stereotypes, you know? I could address that.”

“Yeah, people just don’t think that without a family to catch them in hard times they could be there. I mean, just think if we didn’t have our parents, or at least if we didn’t have yours.”

“Yours wouldn’t let you slip into homelessness, either. They may not pay to keep you in Boston, but they wouldn’t let you fall so far,” I said.

“But not everyone has that safety net,” she said.

“No, not everyone. Not most,” I answered.

“It’s good he got Section 8 housing,” she reiterated. “And then you could use the proceeds from the writing to go to like Wal-mart or something and buy coats in bulk, because the big charities can take care of food banks and stuff but obviously at least someone needs some help to get a coat.”

“That probably not the best way to go about it, but I like the idea,” I said. Then we quieted down since the bus had reached the airport, and we listened to the speaker list off the airlines at Terminal A and then Terminal B stop 1, where we got off. I walked her into the airport.

“Did you hear what that woman said to me, when she got on the bus?” I asked.

“No, what did she say?”

“That if he was homeless he should just get a job. ‘Everyone is hiring,'” I mocked.

“Yeah, that’s why you’re struggling to get a job,” Ashley scoffed. “God, that’s something my sister would’ve said.” She shook her head as we boarded the up escalator to the US Airways ticket counters.

“I would’ve given him the coat off my back if I could’ve afforded to replace it,” I said.

“I know, honey. I could see it in the way you watched him.” She put her hand on my shoulder.

“And that’s the extent of my generosity: I’ll give as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me. God, what a dick I am.”

“No, honey,” she cooed. “We just don’t have anything to give.”

So here I was at the airport with my girlfriend early in the morning to say goodbye, having given two dollars so that a young out-of-luck man who happened to cross my path could buy a coat, critical of myself. The story needs work, like what problems my parents had bailed me out of and how recently and the job change I was going through at the time, from an overnight concierge position to a cashier position at The Coop, where I’d work later that day for the third 9-hour shift in a row my third day on the job. But still, it’s a start.

2 Comments

Filed under Creative nonfiction, Criticism, Humanistic, 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

Teacups

The story that this scene belongs to met with fairly mixed reviews in class. I’m interested to see what you make of it. 🙂

**

Grab the wheel, honey, the polished circled. The illusion of control makes the ride bearable.

His eyes washed over his daughter’s pale gentle cheeks. Worry painted her features; he only gave advice at the worst moments, in the face of impending unpleasantness. He wondered whether she wasn’t entirely unlike a dog, associating his advice with the master’s harsh and sometimes inexplicable hand of judgement.

Fear struck as the wheel began to spin faster than he was pulling. When he used his hands to resist it, the force tossed his hands away like a parent might slap rougly the hands of a child. His wrists popped and his hands flew with a loud plastic clunk into the inside wall of the cup. He looked at his giggling daughter; in mirth, she had closed her eyes. Perhaps she felt safe, still assuming he was in control.

Her laughter stopped abruptly and her brown eyes caught his off-guard. She held his eyes through his terror with a steady and confidence gaze that contradicted and complemented her youthful brightness and pushed him further into fear. Then, “Daddy,” she asked, “why don’t you tell me you love me?”

A thunderous crack drowned out his dumb response, and the cup teetered like a dying top. A sudden nausea struck him, but he noticed the teetering detract; the spinning became violent, clamping him against the bench. This can’t be happening, he thought madly. This can’t be real!

A second audible crack preceded a more violent swaying. John turned his head from side to side and felt the summer of the concrete and the winter of the humid air. The speed increased the tilt; he clenched his muscles, forcing shut his eyes and closing off his senses, leaving only his reeling consciousness inside the darkness.

His daughter’s eerie calmness and the absurdity of her question convinced him to open his eyes again. Behind her, the world spun into colored lines with indefinite borders. She alone remained in clear focus—even the cup blurred around the wheeling vortex, but he could distinguish her through the whirlwind.

Concern coated her features and he voice as she said once more, “Daddy?” A third crack dislodged the cup, which turned sideways, harped against the concrete floor, and bolted off, tossing two cups and the riding families aside, their bodies flying lifelessly, casualties.

The cup crashed into the dark hall of Space Mountain, and his daughter closed her eyes and fell limp. A loud crash deafened him as the cup collided with the track, rolling downhill and ripping out accelerator chains.

His daughter began to shake and squirm as the cup penetrated a neon orange tunnel. Her loose hands tightened into fists, and her head rolled from side to side randomly, quickly sometimes and slowly. Her teeth pressed against and then pierced her lower lip, and he saw her tongue lick blood off of her chin.

He reached against the hostile wind and the careening force of the cart. Even his own arms seemed to resist as if bound to his torso by rubber bands. He managed to reach six inches out, and then a foot. At the wheel’s circumference, his fingers and then his wrists and then his arms broke within a second, one tri-part crack. John wailed in  pain and anger, pushing with his legs towards his daughter even as his useless arms fell back.

But the passion only lasted a moment. Through the surreal howl he heard his recognition that even if he reached her now, his ineffectual grip could not wake her, would only cause him pain as he tried with broken bones to seize her. His hollowed-out sense of paternal protection felt as vacant and vague as the false orange stars.

The cup hit a crest and at once derailed, breaking again the rollercoaster’s shell. Through the air he and she sailed; her eyes opened and her shrill and terrified scream beat out the freight-train tone for a moment. Her cheeks had turned ghastly and hollow in her momentous horror.

The cup fell magnificently into the ocean, but just before they hit the girl’s face lit up with a smile, and she seemed al of a sudden placid. The porcelene plastic shattered on impact, and John’s body skipped like a stone against the harsh and salty surface.

He crashed into a cresting wave that repelled him like an immortal wall, and he saw his daughter one last time through his pained delirium. She stood atop the final wave smiling. He sunk into the blue.

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

1 Comment

Filed under Fiction, Writing

Theme Thursday: Hatred

I may have misread Hazlitt’s “On the Pleasure of Hating,” a homework assignment for my nonfiction literature course. It’s not a unique experience for me, but since one dimension by which I can track my philosophic pursuits is the systematic deletion of my hatreds, the message I missed surprised me.

Because Hazlitt spews bile, I carried the preconception that he discussed hatred as a means of moving forward even as he stated contrary cases. For example, we should hate organized religion because organized religion preaches love while providing a worn-smooth channel for the expression of hatred.

This circular argument disappoints me primarily because it spits in the face of perennial philosophic and mystic traditions. While I have no love of organized religion, I do cherish criticism, but only as a tool of love. We give attention to those things that we love, and our attention natural slips not into hatred but into criticism; when we take criticism past its logical purpose, it becomes judgment, and judgment begets hate.

However, perhaps the lesson of the essay serves as a primer to the examined life. If I can recognize that I hate, I can recognize my existence and begin to temper my actions. If I can recognize my loss of self under the guise of partisan tyranny, I can reclaim myself. And I am a wrathful person. I harbor hate even to this day.

This week’s theme: Hatred

I despise pop culture, everything from gossip to television to commercials; another way to say it is that I loath shallowness and those who are shallow. I disparage politics and politicians, and I scorn any understanding of social progress even as I fight for moderation and an adoption of humanistic equivalence. I resent my sister. Even as we’ve grown closer over the years, I bear a grudge that shows itself as plainly as any scar when I attempt to write about her and our relationship, and anyone could witness tension build in me even as I talk about our past.

I know that I carry these with me. They continue to exist despite my protest against them, for what vice flees before mere desire? The first step to cleansing myself of them is a recognition that I have them, and thank God that step is done with for these, though they are hardly the sum total. The next step is to wrestle with them and attempt to understand or even subdue them. I call this ongoing process maturation.

Let’s live up to this interpretation of Hazlitt’s call and write a story about our hatreds. I know that emotion is hard to control when we start talking about our fragile core, but spiritual growth necessitates vulnerability.

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!

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, Features, Humanistic, Theme Thursdays

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