Psyche

 

“Do you think I count the days? There is only one day left, always starting over: It is given to us at dawn, and taken away from us at dusk.”

– Jean-Paul Sarte

Psyche

Sometimes, I feel trapped here.

Don’t get me wrong, I love college, and, yeah, that Asher Roth song is still on some of my playlists. But I still feel like there’s something missing, a certain vitality or reality that is conspicuously absent.

Maybe it’s got something to do with personal relationships. My friends here, much as I love them, don’t have the same history as the people who I grew up with, who got in fights for me in middle school, drunkenly wandered my hometown with me, who I supported and they in turn supported me through breakups, family drama, encounters with the law, and countless other stupid escapades.

Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that I haven’t been in a serious romantic relationship since I got here, and I definitely shoulder the majority of the ownness for that. I’ve become too casual about intimacy. I struggle to care in the same way I used to, not in an “oh, yeah, I get with tons of girls, dude, it’s no big deal” kind of way, but more in a “I no longer feel those visceral ties of affection on the few occasions I’ve gotten serious with another person”.

But I think those are both symptoms, rather than the cause of my feeling that something’s missing in my life. There are two topics I want to discuss; motivation, and the freedom/structure dichotomy, both of which are big issues in my life right now. Not to get abstract or anything, but I’m gonna.

Three years ago, I wanted to be on an all-district list for my senior year playing football. I didn’t want to be all-state or first team all district, I didn’t even want to be a team captain, I just wanted some recognition for four years of doing something I loved. I loved every aspect of the game, from the pre-practice jitters, to how there was always dirt encrusted in the palm of my left hand, to how I could lie down at night and fall into void without thinking. I loved being tested, looking across at the guy who, after three thundering heartbeats, would throw himself at my line and try to break it with every ounce of effort he could. I loved my teammates, my coaches, even some of my rivals. And I wanted to see if that feeling could be translated to something tangible, to a recognition of my small part in the game I loved.

So I worked for it. I lifted weights after every practice, did burpees when I woke up, read books about line drill, and watched a lot of NFL. And every second was a pleasure. I felt more invested than ever, and every game, every practice, every conditioning session, every rep… it all mattered. With each drop of sweat, I moved closer to my goal. And even after my season ended with a brutal concussion, I got there: second team all-Jefferson district. Might not sound like much, but I was stoked.

But working in a class I can’t really care about, so I can get a good grade, so I can get a good GPA, so I can get a good paying job, so I can be secure and successful? Fuck, I could care less. I mean, intellectually, I know I should care, and I stress about it all the time, but I don’t have any love for what I’m doing in school nowadays. I want to be making a difference, or better yet, to be challenged in the same way that my experiences with football challenged me.

A combination of things that I genuinely want and a genuine appreciation for the activity I’m doing, that’s what drives me.

Nick, you have perfect attendance at your barista job. How does that fit the paradigm you’re setting out?

I enjoy the job itself. Sure, it’s mindless and boring at times, but I like making coffee. More importantly, I like the people I work with, feel a sense of personal attachment to them, and don’t want to let them down, so I make a point of being reliable. Also, I really, really want a car: there’s the goal.

Nick, you seem to be doing a lot of writing, and often times neglect classes that are within your major to work on Creative Writing or personal projects. Explain.

I don’t’ really have a goal in mind for this one, bit writing is the shit. I can be myself here, articulate thoughts I never could in person, build ideas and abstractions out of white space and a blinking line, and it makes me feel productive and worthwhile to boot. Doesn’t hurt that I’m good at it either, much like football. That’s a not-so-humble-brag, just so we’re clear.

So, motivation. Yeah. Not so great at it. Maybe the stumbling block is the paradigm I’ve set for myself: that I can only excel at something I truly enjoy, and struggle with almost everything else. Not maybe, that’s definitely part of the issue. The problem is, though, that I have no clue about how to go about changing that.

My father once said, when I talked to him about some of this: “Fake it ‘til you make it.”

Well Dad, I’ve been faking it for three straight years. It’s kept me from flunking out, but I haven’t made it yet.

Okay, so that depressing-ass issue has been discussed enough, so let’s move on to one I can be equally cynical about: my struggle with finding a balance between freedom and structure.

My family’s got plenty of issues. One of them is consistency with regard to how much freedom my little sister and I were given throughout middle and high school. Being part of a joint-custody agreement for most of my formative years, and constantly moving between two parties that rarely exchange any sort of information is certainly contributory to my struggles today finding a balance between freedom and structure. I don’t want to place blame, though. I’ve said it before in my writing: I can only talk about me, and if I deviate from that precept, things are only shades of grey.

I know that I’ve got too much of a certain kind of freedom here at Tech. There’s few consequences if I miss a class. My parents pay for everything, my rent, my phone bill, my tuition. Therefore, I have very little personal investment in my time at school. It’s not how I want to feel, and intellectually, I know that my folks have put themselves on the line for me to be here. But there’s no immediacy, no sense of personal responsibility, even no tangible incentives: It’s not like poly sci majors from (no offence I really do love you VT!) a second tier university are in high demand.

Yet, in another way, I have too little freedom. I don’t have a car, and therefore can’t be out backpacking, fishing, or taking spontaneous road trips on the weekends, all of which are great personal passions. While my essentials are all taken care of, I am, personally, dead broke. This means less going out with my buddies, going golfing, seeing live music, or even watching Tech games, one of the greatest pleasures of attending this school. The reason I didn’t buy a student ticket this year? I couldn’t afford it.

The reverse of freedom is structure. Why’d I do well in high school classes? I had to be there, every day, by law, and there were very immediate consequences associated with neglecting school. Get a bad grade on a test? Coach Sherry, my football coach, wouldn’t play you in the next game, not to mention the reaming I could expect from my folks.

I’ve tried to artificially recreate structure on my own at Tech in the past year or so. I tried scheduling obsessively – just ended up ignoring them. I tried reaching out to advisors for advice and guidance – turns out they can’t change your habits for you.

I foresee this as being a big issue in my life if I don’t teach myself consistency and self-regulation. God help me, but I’ve even thought about the army, not because I’m patriotic, certainly not because I want to see combat, but because it’s a structure with internal consequences and incentives. I don’t know the solution to these two issues in my life. I feel like doing nothing will cement the bad habits and ideations that I’ve habituated myself to. But I don’t know where to go from here, either.

I know this sounds like a letter of intent to drop out of school and pursue my random fancies. But here, intellect, or maybe just fear, steps in. I’m in too deep at this point, even though I’m just now emotionally mature enough to recognize that these issues are really tearing at me. It would have been, not great, but acceptable to decide not to go to college, even to drop out after a semester or two. But now, five semesters in, my parents have invested thousands of dollars in me being here. Dropping out now would be a huge loss, not to mention a source of crippling guilt that would dog me for the rest of my life. So I can’t do that.

So, yeah. Sometimes I feel trapped here.

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Sacred Groves

Sacred Groves

Chincoteague Island, Accomac, VA.

You’d think it starts with the beach, but it doesn’t. It’s the air. Salt, and sweet, rotting weeds, pine needles, barbecue smoke, and the wind rolling in off the Atlantic. It catches deep in your lungs, thick, viscous, and makes them twinge in ecstatic calm, sending waves of languidity through your body, making you relax muscles you didn’t even realize were tense. That’s where it starts.

Imagine, standing on the edge of the sound at 5:00 in the morning, alone, swaddled in a sweatshirt, not because it’s cold, exactly, but because the cloth makes you feel powerful in that moment, like armor over the bare skin of your chest. Your feet are twined into the wiry grass at the edge of the manmade canal, coarse grains of sand scratching between your toes. Start with your eyes closed. First, the wind, that magic air, hissing through the pines that tower out of the marsh ahead of you, whispering in your ears. Then, the water, quiescent now in the light of dawn, bubbling and lapping at the wooden edge of the sound, chuckling with the rising tide.

Open your eyes, and look. Watch that mesmerizing dance, as the water, still cast in shadow, holds an undulating image of a pale sun hung low in a pink sky. See the egret, white wings folded, orange beak darting into the rushes as she hunts. Follow the cirrus clouds, graded from blood red to matte violet, as they trundle away westward.

Or, imagine the beach. It’s 4:00, and your skin is tacky with hours of dried sweat, sunscreen, and salt. You’re lying on the edge of a continent. The back of your head is lying on the sun-baked sand, radiating warmth into your scalp. Every few seconds, the foaming edge of a particularly well-breaking wave rolls up your leg, caressing your heel, your ankle, the back of your calf. You’re not doing a thing, not playing bocce, not reading your summer brain-candy book, not drinking a beer, not going out to ride waves, but you know you could do any of them. You just aren’t. You’re lying there, and breathing with the crash… hiss… in … out… The sun presses, bright red, against the inside of your closed eyelids. The seagulls call. The wind blows sand against your side.

Potomac Plaza Apts, Washington, D.C.

The beating heart of my family is located in a little, sun strewn living room in D.C. It’s not particularly big or ostentatious. A red rug covers the wood floor, radiating sunny warmth. Comfortable armchairs and a leather couch indented with thousands of backsides ring a little wooden coffee table. A stereo, record player, and thousands of yellowed albums line one wall. On the other is the family history, calcified in thousands of photos, each in a book with a year neatly penned on the paper inset on the spine, stretching from now back to the 1940s.

If you look along the walls, the pictures and objects tell a story whose complexity and details I still don’t know fully today. On the mantle, cracked white paint scrupulously free of dust, is a sword in a scabbard. It’s weaving basket hilt is so rusted that the metal is peeling in some places, and the leather scabbard is black with age. John claims it was carried by his Great Grandfather in the battle of Waterloo. He always ends that story with some awful crack like “Oh yes, it saw the bottom of the Loo, if you know what I mean,” and Aunt Ana will roll her eyes and pretend to swoon.

Next to the sword is a framed photograph of my aunt standing between JFK and Lyndon Johnson, arms linked, the three of them grinning into the camera. Beside that is a little wooden plaque with a brass front that reads; To Chairwoman Ana Steele for 30 years of inspiring service with the National Endowment for the Arts. In the little, spare kitchen, the eggshell-blue walls are covered with pictures of the family. The Clarks have no kids, and it shows. My little sister and I, as babies, are featured heavily. There are pictures of all my aunts and uncles with their SOs, even one of my mom and dad before their divorce.

The opportunities to spend time with my great-aunt and uncle are too few and far between. This can be attributed to family politics,  issues that run deep and dark under the surface between and behind closed doors. Ana is my father’s estranged father’s sister, and so there is a coolness between them which I’ll never quite understand. I wish it were different. The Clarks are some of the stablest, most active, kindest people I’ve ever met, and it pains me to think that, both in their late eighties, they won’t be around forever. There’s a quiet holiness to that little apartment, a sense of years and laughs and people gone by.

Elk Range, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, CO

Capitol Peak has been glaring down at me for days, shoulders carpeted in permanent snow, 14,000 feet above sea level. It is a surreality, even in the transcredible Rockies, a gigantic grey fist whose unimaginable mass mocks anything made by people.  Its megalithic, hulking shape dominated the valley through which we had been moving, inching closer and closer until it was omnipresent even in thought. People die climbing that. People die trying to climb that.

And now it’s my turn.

I feel kind of like I might throw up. My hands are shaking. My balls are trying to climb into my stomach. But it’s time. I stand up, strap my helmet on, and while it’s covering my face, I take a long, shuddering breath. Austin, the guy who’s going to make the crossing with me, slaps me on the shoulder.

“Vamos.”

This is the real test, not the hours of hiking, or the slow picking across talus fields, not the weeks of camping or the plane rides across the country. This is the moment. Here we go, motherfucker.

We’d been perched on a little ridge, the end of a miles-long approach, while our guides talked us through the route. As we’d sat there, I realized that if I had to watch someone else make the climb, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I had to go first. Me and Austin glanced at each other when they asked for volunteers.

And so now I was here, looking over the Knife Edge. For a few hundred feet, the mountain narrowed to a point, eighty degrees of exposure stretching down into oblivion on either side. The ridge was narrow enough to straddle, though near the tip there were plenty of cracks and crevices which we would use to make the traverse.

“Okay, here we go,” said Katie, one of the two guides. “Watch where I put my feet, and keep three points of contact.”

Fuckfuckfuck… and then my brain shut off. I stepped down, my butt scraping the rocks, and looked for cracks to stick my boots into. My hands were clamping down on the pointed ridge of rock that ran down the length of the knife edge, so hard it hurt. Left foot first, test your weight, then left hand, grab onto that crevice, right foot, a little higher up, right hand. Forget everything but the movement. Remember to keep your center of gravity low.

Those endless, heart thundering moments seemed to last for centuries.

Behind me, I heard Austin knock a pebble loose, heard it click once, somewhere below us, and then nothing. The wind buffeted my ears. I looked up, toward the end of the section, to see we were already more than halfway across.

“Hey,” said Katie, “Let’s stop for a minute.”

She was a few feet ahead of me, straddling the knife edge. I stopped, and with infinite slowness, transferred myself so that I was straddling the rock too, the point digging painfully into my inner thigh. And the world came rushing back.

A pika chirped. The sun felt comfortably warm on my skin. Below my left dangling boot, iron-grey rockfall swept down the steep slope for thousands of feet, before giving way to two icy blue snowmelt lakes, which nestled between little stands of aspen and pine which eked out an aesthetic life above the treeline. I could see our camp down there in the valley, two or three squares of orange and red cloth. Far away, the landscape rose again to form the rust-red Maroon Bells, their blunt, trapezoidal peaks jutting up to make a jagged horizon.

Under my right foot, the knife edge was a smooth swoop of granite, barely even cracked. The exposure on this side was even more pronounced; the woods below looked like grass. A cottony wisp of cloud drifted by on one of Capitol’s neighbor peaks, three or four miles away and thousands of feet below us.

Never before or since have I felt at once so insignificant or so keenly awake, in tune with myself and my surroundings. It defies description.

The United Party

Hey, all! I know it’s been a while since my last post, but I’ve been really busy. So, here’s something I just wrote in the last few hours. It’s an idealistic, hopeful piece, written because I’m so sick of the debasing tone of this damn election and how sordid it makes our political system appear.

The United Party

CNN special coverage of United party Campaign rally in Cleveland Ohio.

 

“Thanks Tom. Now, before we go to the stage here, where in just a few minutes Juliana Crane, the Presidential Nominee, will give her speech, let’s go into the context of this event and why it’s the talk of the nation. Since 2016, the Democrats, and in particular President Clinton, have been running the show in Washington. The GOP has been locked in internal strife since the indictment and conviction of former nominee Donald Trump for sexual assault in December 2017, though they’ve managed to hold onto the House and have been a constant hindrance to the Clinton administration for nearly a decade. If anything, the failed Pence/Christie run in 2020 only further deepened the acrimony and partisan division in Washington. Enter the United Party. A surprising blend of both former Democrats and Republicans, the United Party grew out of the disaffected Senate Ethics committee of 2016. Now, we may be witnessing this ticket having the most successful third party bid in living memory. Crane, a former Virginia Democrat, and John Kaisch, former republican governor of Ohio, have raised an immense groundswell of support the likes of which rival that which former President Obama saw during his first presidential election. Just look behind me; we’re live from Quicken Loans Arena here in Cleveland, and it’s packed to the gills, with folks sitting in the isles. It’s really something. Now, CNN brings you live coverage of Juliana Crane’s speech.”

 

“Thank you, thank you. Wow, what a great crowd! It’s such a beautiful day here in Cleveland, and I’m truly honored to be here with all you.” [Indistinct shout from the crowd] “I love you too! Can I just say, that it’s moments like that when I remember why I love politics. Secretly, I’m just in it for the adoration.” [Crowd laughs] “Okay, so I’m here to introduce myself and my campaign. For those who don’t know me, I’m Juliana Crane. I’m from Charlottesville, Virginia, and I’m running for president with the new United Party. We’re a new organization, formed after the travesty of the 2016 presidential election, no disrespect meant, President Clinton. We all remember what it was like, eight years ago, the lies, the sensationalism, how far the bar dropped. I remember sitting on my couch with my daughter and thinking that she and everyone across the country deserved better, and I began to discover that many people felt the same way, not just ordinary Americans, but lots of my colleagues in government as well, and so we started the United Party. It started small, just me and some like minded individuals: the late great Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative Romney, Senator Sue Collins, and a few others. Now, I know what you’re thinking, how in the world did you get all those people in the same room without a brawl breaking out? My answer is simple, and it cuts to the heart of what I want this campaign to be about. These are good people. They have their differences, but they all believe in America, and we all shared concerns about the path that the two parties of eight years ago were leading us down. We also recognized that political discourse had been forever changed in this nation, but we saw potential in that change where others saw impending disaster. So, we brought Mr. Jon Stewart on board as a consultant, and he was the one who suggested that our first goal should be complete transparency. The 2016 election was a resounding example of how we live in a world dominated by the media, and how deeply mistrustful the American people had become of those who represent them. Our little group decided, then and there, that we wanted to change that. We decided to open ourselves to the American people, to share everything, no matter how painful or embarrassing. That started with us publicizing everything about our lives, from our High School grades, to our hobbies, our parking tickets, and taxes. We started by doing bits on youtube, and Mr. Stewart, an ideas man, an outsider, and an untapped well of good ideas, suggested we take it one step further, so we started CongressCam. I’m wearing mine right now. For eight years, anyone who wanted to know what their Virginia representative was doing could go online and watch me, whether it was during a vote, listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks in the car, or playing with my daughter. If the camera was off, they could track back and see the reason why, be it a closed session, a national security matter, or my husband being creeped out by knowing the nation could see him asking me which tie to wear. CongressCam is just the baseline, though. We in the United party want the people to really know us, know us like our family, because we consider our duty to the American people to be as important as our duty to our families. That starts with transparency. Now, I know the question that follows naturally from this exposition – Juliana, that’s all great, but the United party is a hodgepodge of different ideologies, what do you stand for? And that’s a question I get a lot. People are so used to the deep divide in Washington that it’s hard for them to see that a group of people who don’t agree can set aside those differences in service to a greater cause. Our uniting ideology is not our stance on abortion, on healthcare, on international affairs. We are United in believing that this country deserves a government free from cronyism, from patronage, from greed, hence our complete transparency with regard to donations. We are United because we believe in working with each other, believe in sitting down with someone you don’t agree with, hashing it out, making sacrifices and compromises, and being able to shake hands when you’re done. We believe, in short, in the basic decency of our fellow American. Thank you. On that note, here’s a man with whom I’ve often had those late night arguments, a man of purpose and conviction, who I’m proud to call my colleague and friend. Ladies and gentlemen, my running mate, your former governor, and future vice president: Mr. John Kasich!”

 

Lumeria

So, this is super nerdy…

But idgaf because I’m pumped about it!

I’m helping my dad self-publish a tabletop RPG book by writing all of the color pieces. I’ll post a link to it when we finally finish it. It’s been really fun writing some fantasy, which I don’t often get the chance to do, and I hope you enjoy it. Here’s one of the bits I’ve written so far.

Falling Night

These days, Lumeria’s light is lazy, may the Lord Apparent excuse such blasphemy. It drifts down in languorous umber motes, and I find myself writing by the light of twilight even now, though the dægmæle tells me Lumia should not wane for seven more minutes. One hears tell that our Lord’s light reaches some places not at all. On my return from convocation only a week ago, as I performed my daily walk of contemplation, a street wretch drew me from my abstraction and begged for blessing. This individual, though pathetic to the utmost extremity, seemed a penitent enough soul, and the Lord’s Law demands charity where due. I bestowed the customary blessing and offered him a meal from the rectory besides. As my guard and I escorted him there, he told me his tale, and it weighs heavy upon my soul.

The beggar began his story by telling of his bondage as agflota on the Reaving craft Perfidy, captained by that great rogue, Argyll. When he spoke these words, the captain of my guard, ever zealous Angstrom, drew steel and opined that the head of a man who had served under Argyll would make a fine adornment for Chapel Gate, slave or no. I reminded dear Angstrom that not all men can be as pure as he, and bade the wretch to continue his tale, surfeited with fear though he now was. Voice trembling, the pathetic creature continued. Argyll had tired of the slim pickings that were to be had in his usual hunt-
ing grounds, and so it was decided that he and his crew would venture down among the lower ostrovs in search of untouched spoils. He spoke of twisted vistas and dark among the orange and red ostrovs, and how, at journey’s end, they stumbled upon the rooms of ruin that lay like forests trailing their roots through the Nether.

This man spoke, in a hushed voice, of the great fyndels that whirr and creak under that dark sky, though they lay dust- covered amid carpets of their own rust. He spoke of how the ship’s steorere could not tell sky from Nether, and how the men huddled around the deck lamps in hope that they would once again see the light of Lux. This man told of how the crew feared to sleep, for each hand claimed be plagued by whispers in their dreams. He spoke of first hunger, then of thirst, but mostly of the terror that their dwindling store of lamp oil struck into the hearts of all the crew. In desperation, Argyll led an armed party ashore in search of stores, leaving his mate behind to command the remnants of his Reavers. The group left the ship and entered the ruins of a vast temple they had sighted from the deck earlier that day.

There, said the beggar, his wrinkled old face twisted in re-
membered terror, they were set upon. The first sign of trouble, he said, was when the party’s torches snuffed out, all in the same instant, so that the only light was the distant glow cast by the fire the crew had built on the Perfidy’s deck. In that lurid half light, Argyll’s career came to a grisly end. Out of the darkness, some invisible power began to seize each agflota in turn and tear them limb from limb. The beggar himself only survived the butchery by covering himself in the remains of his comrades and affecting the attitude of one of the slain. Only Argyll was spared this fate, though one much worse was reserved for him. Out of the darkness of the temple strolled a horrible, withered, twisted form, its jaw ripped open to swing against its own papery neck. The thing seized Argyll, who was struck motionless by the monster’s power, and carried him up the steps and away into the bowels of the temple. The beggar trembled as he remembered his master’s hoarse screams of helpless terror.

Coward that he was, the beggar remained motionless for nigh on an hour, then had fled back to the ship with all haste. The Perfidy disembarked immediately and fled for her home port, ignoring the many members of her crew who succumbed to starvation and for want of water. The crew voted to maroon the beggar for his cowardice in the face of danger, but they were not without mercy, and only did so when the ship had reached green ostrovs.

I listened to this tale in skeptical silence, my hands folded into the belt of my habit, as is my wont. When we reached the rectory, I bade the beggar purity in the eyes of the Lord Apparent, and dismissed his story as the ravings of a madman. However, the more I think of it, the more the tale troubles me. I have seen strange things that are nowhere in the church records I studied as a boy, which cover nearly ten generations of history. Strangely, I have found the wisdom of nomads to be revelatory on this subject. Many dismiss the gitanos as thieves and vagabonds, but I have found them to be devout fol-
lowers of the Lord Apparent, and the gitanos have a saying: “Night follows light”. I fear that the light of mother church and ostrovicum is fading, and I worry at the things that lurk in the scædu of night.

–The diary of Legate Aeldmar

Blood and Guts

Wow, writing this one hurt. I’m debating on whether or not to turn this in as my first workshop for that creative nonfiction class.

 

The worst moment in my life was a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the wind dandling the chimes hanging on my aunt’s porch. I’m hungover, and everyone knows, it’s obvious. I puked at some point last night, and my cheeks are spackled with popped blood vessels, but it’s a wink and a nod to my family. Drinking long, hard, and often is a tradition in my family, which is for the most part, surprise, surprise: Irish-Catholic. A great-grandfather, grandfather, and an uncle were all alcoholics, but whenever the Steeles get together, they drink shamelessly. This is one of those times. We were having brunch, but it ran long. My aunt Johanna kept making me mimosas.

“Hair of the dog?” She kept saying, and I would shrug, and think, why not.

So, imagine the scene. There’s my dad, stepmother, and two of my half-brothers (there are four! now). There’s my aunt, her husband, and their two kids. There’s some of my aunt’s neighbors, trying to break into the clannish in-jokes and stories. There’s one uncle, on fall break from William and Mary. Another one, and his wife, visiting from Richmond. The kitchen table’s full of congealing quiche and warm shrimp cocktails. Then there’s me, sitting on a stool in the living room, longing for a warm bed, feeling like I might puke, and sucking down prosecco and orange juice anyway.

I had been out the night before, I don’t exactly remember where, but I know who with; the usual crowd, Jeremy, Robert, Elizabeth, all of them. It might have even been the night after Homecoming or something – not prom though, even then I wasn’t stupid enough to show my face around my folks after a night like that. This was junior year of high school, and I had long graduated from smoking blunts in basements to… well, other things. I could tell some really stupid stories about vicodin and xanex. But recently, my ADHD friend Isaac had been selling me and my buddies adderall. We used to crush it up and do lines before we went out for the night: it made you really hyped, really in the mood for some hard drinking, for grinding on girls at the Jefferson, “and, dude, did you notice that you barely get hung over?”.

So I had been out the night before, drove home, and changed my clothes in preparation for the brunch I was at right now. I knew that I had bought two or three addy from Isaac the night before, but I couldn’t find them that morning. I figured we had done them all during the festivities.  

Can I say, that even four years later, this shit is still making my heart race? I feel dread for past-me. I should have done so many goddamn things differently.

There are four kids crawling around on the floor, screaming, getting into things, running around, and generally being adorable little hellions. And my cousin, Cormac, who is only 14 months old, is rooting around on the floor by the living room couch. Johanna’s husband, sitting next to him, bends down and plucks something out of his mouth. I’m not paying attention, trying to keep my eyelids from sliding shut.

“What’s this?” he asks, his voice tinged with something off.

There are two P.H.ds and a grad student in the room. They figure it out quick.

“It’s some kind of pill. Look it up on drugs.com.”

I’m listening now, but I’m not sure what I’m hearing. They’re talking so fast. My eyes are wide open.

“That’s amphetamine salt, Adderall. Cormac had that? How?”

Sitting on that stupid fucking stool with umber evening light streaming through the bay window behind me, the wind chimes binging away, sun hot on the back of my button-down, the scent of frozen shrimp sticking in the back of my throat. That’s it. The worst moment of my life.

 

 

 

 

Race

 

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

  • Hemmingway

 

Race.

 

This blog isn’t a place for me to stand up on a soapbox, and this essay isn’t supposed to be that. A few different things got me to sit down and write this thing. First, there’s been a lot of stuff in the news in the past few months that is beyond troubling to me. When I first got this idea, it was during this summer, and I had just watched the video that Philando Castile’s girlfriend posted on facebook. I could go on and on about the different events of the past year, about but I’m not gonna. I’m going to talk about how that video made me feel.

I feel sick about it. The way that Diamond Reynolds kept calling the officer sir, even after he just shot her fiancee in front of her daughter. Her disbelief. The way that Jeronimo Yanez was so obviously horrified by what he had just done. How Castile couldn’t do anything, just was slumping slowly over, sheeted in his own blood. Sick, and sad, and worried about the future. The Dallas shooting a few days later was just as frightening. The part that hit home worst about that tragedy was how it mutated news sites’ comment sections into ugly, hateful echo chambers.

People don’t like to talk about this kind of thing, and I think that’s a problem. It’s such an open, glaring, oozing sore in modern society, that’s so ugly that people only refer to it obliquely, or shy away from the topic altogether. I think that’s wrong. I think you should always try to talk about the hard stuff, the issues that fester if you leave them alone, even if by talking about them you fuck up or sound like an idiot. That’s been my personal experience, and even now I find it hard to lay my heart on the table like this, but I believe that’s how we find our own true worth.

So those images have been lurking in the back of my mind over the past few months, which brings us to this morning, when I watched the first episode of Donald Glover’s new series, Atlanta. First, I’ve gotta say that if you haven’t watched it yet, you should, it’s funny and real and kind of a downer all rolled into one, with a side-dose of the absurd. But the most striking part about it was the overwhelming sense of fatalism, that Earn, Glover’s character, was slated to lose and give until he’s consumed. And then, after I watched the show, I read some article (I’ll find it later and link it) in which Glover was saying that white people don’t know everything about black culture.

I don’t know that much about black culture to begin with, and I don’t know how much of Atlanta is hyperbole, or stereotypes, or what. So I tried to read between the lines, and look deeper, and there were so many subtexts about homophobia, police tension, violence, just lurking under the surface. And it got me thinking about the experience of the black people in my life, and how different their experiences might be from mine.

I don’t want it to sound like I’m trying to speak for anyone else, brown, black, white, or blue, because I can’t. All I can do is talk about me. Media talks about white privilege and white guilt a lot. I don’t feel privileged, even though, intellectually, I know I am. I don’t feel guilty for the advantages I have, I’m grateful for them. I grew up in neighborhoods where nobody locked their doors. I went to private schools until my parents split up, when I was 10. I’m a middle class white male.

To illustrate the environment I grew up in, here’s a little anecdote. This August, I went up to Pennsylvania to visit my grandparents, who are devoted Catholics in their 70’s. While me and my mom were having dinner with them one night, the conversation turned to the school integration programs in the 50’s and 60’s. My grandma, who was just getting over a lumpectomy surgery, and was on some painkillers that may have erased her filters a bit, said something like: “Those people were coming from Philadelphia, from an hour away on the bus, and were changing things here so fast. It didn’t make sense, and it was destroying the town.” There was more, all in this awkward, embarrassed, apologetic tone that made me cringe.

On the drive back home from PA with my mom, I brought up the conversation that had made me feel so uncomfortable. She was surprised.

“Really?” she said. “That was them being open minded.”

When I was in high school, in the most diverse school in the county, I didn’t think about race much, if at all. But now I’m going to a predominantly white college, and the issue keeps bubbling up in my mind. I can’t claim to have many black friends, but I was close with one guy in high school who I still regularly hang out with today, and he’s black (he’s “Will” in Chewing the Fat). Being in a city school, such as it was, I also was close with a bunch of black guys during my time playing football, including some of the coaches, who are among my personal role models. The man that looms largest among these, literally, is C.J., or Chris Johnson, my lineman coach through most of high school.

C.J. isn’t my role model because he’s perfect. He has a bit of a checkered history involving the school system and marijuana, but that doesn’t matter that much to me. I admire him because he helped me become who I am today, saw something in me that I couldn’t. Somewhere between all the cussing, joking, cutting up, conditioning, and camaraderie, C.J. taught me something about what it means to be a man. To respect myself, to recognize that life is a process, and to push the boundaries of what you think you can do. And it kills me that someone like C.J., that anyone at all, that it’s even possible for someone to be killed, let alone be treated unfairly, because of the color of their skin. It kills me that  it could have been C.J.’s wife taking that video, and his son sitting in the back seat of the car.

That’s what I know for sure, that what’s happening to black people in America is wrong. All the rest of it is bullshit, background noise. What really matters is that we confront the issues in front of us, evaluate them as we know how, and then have the integrity and courage to speak them, rather than remain mute bystanders.

So if that’s the conclusion, what’s the policy solution? What can the average person do? As an aspiring political science student, those questions come right on the heels of thinking a problem through. On the policy level, I think the first step is to bring these kind of issues into a more spirited national debate. On a Congressional level, change starts with passing some legislative measures to assess and control policing, and provide legal precedents for prosecuting officers who are involved in extrajudicial deaths. Some examples of bills like this are H.R. 1933, which deals with racial profiling, and H.R. 5283, which will tighter enforce due process. But since when has government made changes in the hearts and minds of the people on the street? I think everyone who lives in America owes it to their country to do some soul-searching, and to make an informed and moral judgement on race relations. This is our nation, and it’s only as good as we make it.

 

Chewing the Fat

What’s happening, hypothetical readers? Here’s a little something I cooked up in the past few hours while trying to respond to a prompt for my creative nonfiction class, which asked for a piece that focused on use of dialogue.

Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

It’s one of those crisp nights in late October, where the air tastes like barbecue smoke and rotting leaves. The cicadas are dead, but there are still crickets shrilling, underneath the distant sound of cars on 250, which is about a mile away from Sean’s house. Most of us are there: Me, Will, Charles, Jeremiah, and Sean, on one of the first weekends of our senior year of high school. Jeremiah and me are smoking cigarettes, there are a few half-drunk bottles of cheap beer on the glass table, and a bong may or may not have made a couple of turns around our little half-circle. We’re sitting in wicker chairs on the concrete patio under Sean’s house, with Marley, Sean’s pup, lying underneath the table between us.

[David Attenborough Narrates]: What you are about to observe is the ritualistic bullshitting of the young human male. Here, in the suburban wilderness of Charlottesville, Virginia, a group of these fascinating creatures has gathered to engage in the telling of tall tales. Let’s listen.

“So, uh, Charles,” Will asks, already grinning, “what happened on Friday, bud? Nick says you literally almost died. Did you literally almost die?”

“Yeah he did, asshole,” I deadpan, and try to blow tobacco smoke at him without moving from my comfy slump.

“It was pretty stupid,” Charles says. “A bunch of us were balling on the courts behind school with Adam and them, and afterward, I was messing around in the car, and I tried to park Jay in.” Jeremiah shakes his head. “So, my car was in the middle of the lot, and Teddy was also trying to get out, and I was messing with him too, right? I was sitting up on his hood, and for some reason he floored it, and went right into my parked car.” He slams his hand on the arm of his chair. “Bam. My car is fucked.”

“The crazy part is,” Jeremiah cuts in, “The crazy part is, though, that his legs were hanging down in front of Teddy’s car. If he hadn’t moved them at the last second, he would have been hamburger.”

“Damn, dude. Is Teddy’s Stepdad heated?” asks Sean.

“I mean, he’s not here, right? He’s for sure grounded.” I reply.

“Dude, Nick, this reminds me of the time on the Downtown Mall with Jack and Bensah. You know what I’m talking about?”

“Yea-”

“Oh, shit, yeah, the freemasons!” Will cuts in, “I was with you guys that night.”

“Yeah,” I say, “I remember. It’s right across from Bensah’s mom’s store.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Charles asks.

“Okay, so it was like, freshman year or something,” I say, “Before you and Sean came from Montessori.”

“We came freshman year. I had lunch with you and Jack.” says Sean.

“Wait -” I toss my butt into an empty bottle and fish around on the floor to find the case. “Shit, really? Riiight, I’m thinking of-”

“Anyway, tell me about the masonic lodge.” says Charles.

“So,” says Jeremiah, taking up the thread. “A bunch of us were on the mall, walking around, y’know.”

“We used to do that all the time,” I say.

“Yeah, and so we were really bored, and we decided to go into the Freemason building on the mall,” says Will, who is now peeling an orange he brought from inside the house, and flicking the pith onto the table. “There’s this stairway that goes up to this big meeting room, and there was just three old dudes chilling up there, totally silent. So creepy.”

“But here’s the good part,” I say, “We kept freaking each other out, so we ended up going in there again.”

“They flipped shit on us,” Will says. “Said they’d call the cops if they saw us again.”

“Pretty reasonable though,” says Jeremiah. “I mean think about it. You’re just chilling somewhere and some random kids come in, not once but twice?”

“Yeah,” I say. “It was still scary though.”

“What happened to Jack and Bensah?” asks Sean, “I haven’t seen either of them in a brick.”

“Jack is over at Miller.” Jeremiah says around the cigarette he’s lighting. “We still hang out occasionally.”

“And Bensah’s at Albemarle.” I say, “Me and Will saw him at the game on Friday.”

“Y’all got killed,” says Jeremiah.

“Shuup,” says Will around a mouthful of orange.

“Hah, Albemarle.” says Charles.

“Yo Will,” I say, sitting up and cracking my back, “Are there more oranges?” Will nods. I look a question at Sean.

“Yeah, it’s cool. Grab me one.”

I slide open the glass door to the house, walk up to the kitchen and grab a couple of oranges from a bowl on the table. Inside, all the lights are out, and the only sounds are from the fridge and the muffled conversation outside. I glance over at the clock on the microwave: 12:17. I think about checking my phone, which is in my bag over by the front door, but decide against it. I can worry about my folks later; I texted them that I was staying over, so hopefully I’m good. As I make my way back downstairs, I grab a wooly blanket that’s hanging over the back of the couch, it’s pretty chilly out there.

[David Attenborough] Soon, the bullshitting will reach a critical mass, and one of the group must issue a challenge.

 

I slide open the glass door to hear: “and Wade’s about to call a taxi, he’s freaking out so bad…”

“Wait, what?” I ask, sitting back down and tossing an orange to Sean.

“Oh, god, don’t tell it again,” says Charles, who’s leaning forward with his head in his hands.

“Okay, so it was last year after you guys played Albemarle in baseball,” says Sean, grinning when Charles groans. “And Jeremiah was driving me, Charles, and Wade Kamauff around in the car.”

“And we decided to go fuck with their field,” says Jeremiah, also grinning. “We went to Lowe’s and bought some spray paint.”

“How have I not heard this?” I ask, mouth hanging open. “Aren’t there cameras?”

“Yeah, but we were thuggin’!” says Sean, and he throws his sweatshirt’s hood up. I chuckle.

“Anyway, we drove to Albemarle and covered their outfield with paint, and then Charles -”

“God damn it.” Charles says, laughing now from between his palms.

“Charles shit on their pitcher’s mound.” Jeremiah barely gets this out, he’s cracking up so bad.

“But you don’t even play baseball!” says Will, “Charles, what the fuck?”

“I know. I know.” Charles says.

“Were you fucked up?” I ask.

“Not evennnn.” Charles moans.

There’s a pause. Crickets whine in the silence. Then –

“Bullshit!” Will says. “There’s no way.”

Cheat

Hey hypothetical readers! This is a post in response to a prompt I got here.

 

Cheat

 

The stale taste of cigarettes clings to the roof of my mouth in sour, curdled hairs. My car window is down, so that I can scoop fresh air into my lungs, and banish that logy, slept-too-late, beer-bloated feeling still clogging up my brain. I stop at a red light, and my phone glares at me from its place on the passenger seat. I know that if I turn it over, there’ll be a text there, waiting to push self-hatred deeper down my throat. I don’t reach for it. Instead I turn up the radio and keep driving.

 

Last night, She said she was tired, and She took an uber home, her mouth twisting at my stumbling attempt to be gallant and hold Her door open for her. We were still in a fight, and I was glad when She was gone. My friends were going downtown, and I was angry, and sleepy from day drinking, so I bumped adderall before we left to get myself right. The light slid by in lurid orange and green while we joked and cut up and sang along to young thug in the car. When I got to the bar, I was already hammered, twitchy, and pumped up, ready to decompress, ready for a good night.

 

I pull into my apartment lot, music blaring, and stare down the people all around me, people who are going to the gym, doing their homework, getting on with their lives. I park, then sit, engine running, and lean the seat back until I’m staring at the car’s fuzzy grey ceiling. I feel like crying, but I can’t, or won’t let myself. Eventually I hear someone walking behind the car, someone laughing and happy with their life, and decide that it’s time to go somewhere less visible. I lug myself upright, get out, slam the door, drag my aching legs up the stairs. I go inside my apartment, mumble a greeting to my roommate doing work at the kitchen table, and retreat to my room. I find my antidepressants, dry swallow a pill, and flop down on my bed. I realize I left my phone in the car, but I’m not going to get it.

 

Last night, She texted me to ask if I wanted to get lunch with Her tomorrow, at that place we went on our third date. It was a peace offering. I ignored it. I was too busy getting lit, and hitting on the cute girl in the short blue skirt, the girl with the eyes that danced when I touched her arm. I ignored that text, but I knew it was there, even as the girl in the blue skirt led me out onto the dance floor, even as one of my buddies cocked an eyebrow at me while she kissed my collarbone over her shoulder, her body pressed up against me. I felt Her beside me, and I pushed Her away with alcohol and denial, and let myself feel a surge of vindictive pleasure when the girl in the blue skirt said her roommate was away for the weekend, and that her apartment was just around the corner.

 

I curl myself into the fetal position on my bed, and wish; that I hadn’t gone to my buddy’s house last night, that I hadn’t gone out, that the awkward, hung over interaction this morning was part of some horrible nightmare, that I was dishonest enough to lie about what happened last night. I have to tell Her. I have to. If I don’t, the part of me that is disgusted about my own actions, the part that is already telling me how much of a piece of shit I am, that part will eat me alive. I force myself out of bed, go to the sink, and slap my face with a double-handful of frigid water. Then I walk outside, to find my phone, to make a call.

On Being Meta

Echo-Chamber

SO, I’ve been trolling around wordpress and the internet in general, looking for both blogs like mine, and places that post the kind of thing I like to write. Here’s what I’ve noticed and what was, at first, baffling to me: there’s any number of book review sites, freelance writer hubs, and blogs with posts like “Ten tips for the perfect plot” or “This writing tip will blow your mind”.  However, its been a legitimate struggle to find actual quality content out there, with stories or even original essays actually written by the same person who is posting them.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t places out there that do that exact thing, I’ve found some awesome blogs with great original content. I’m not here to say writing about how to write is a bad thing either, far from it, I think that its an important niche market, one which I’ve definitely availed myself of from time to time.

So then, the question is, why isn’t there more original content out there? I have some theories.

First, I think it’s because writing meta content is just easier than the alternative. Creative writing, whether it’s reporting, autobiographical, or pure fiction, is hard. It takes a lot of investment in both time and energy. That results in intermittent and rare publishing of content, and that isn’t necessarily the best recipe for a successful blog, with wide readership and high visibility.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; if this process has taught me anything, it’s how hard it is to put out original content on a regular basis. Deadlines are the bane to my creative juices, at least thus far.

The second reason I think there is less original content around is that creative writing is a deeply personal process, and I think it’s hard for people to share their work, even behind the veil of a screen. Almost all of my pieces that I’ve shared so far are, in at least some way, a window into my life, my thoughts, and my worldview, even if the work in question if pure fiction. Even now, I haven’t really distributed this blog’s address amongst my family and friends, just because I feel tender about people I know reading stuff I’ve written. I know that this phenomenon exists for me, and I guess it applies to other aspiring writers out there too.

And I realize the irony here, folks, I really do. I’m writing a meta blog post that’s somewhat critical of how meta the online writing community is. So not to belabor the point, but I guess the TLDR version of this little essay/rant/whatever is this: if you’re a regular jane or joe, and you’ve got something you’ve written, something that you’re proud of, that makes you grin when you think about it, share it with the world. Don’t fall into the echo chamber of writing about writing, instead actually write something, haha.

Nick

 

 

 

Update

Okay people,

So it’s been almost two weeks since I put out The Cave, and since then I’ve been busy af, what with the fall semester starting and all. I’m not totally sure what my next project will be, though I have a little something in the pipe that I might put out later today, maybe I’ll try to guest post it somewhere. I’m in a Creative Nonfiction class this year, and after I get pieces graded there I’ll release them on this site too. I just wanted to put out this little update so that y’all know I’m still alive and kicking.

Peace!

Nick