Our Common Language

Something happened at the bar last night which I think is worthy of writing about. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen a lot (out loud, at least), but when it does rattles me in a strange way that takes days to get over. Of course, it involves my interactions with people who want to sleep with me (it doesn’t matter who), and how I look, and how I think society looks at me.

            I was hanging out with my friend Paul last night at a bar we regularly go to, a bar we in fact hate quite an inordinate amount (oblivious bartenders, bad management), but one that we go to because it’s closest to his house and we’re lazy (he apparently lazier than I.) We were in a few drinks, and of course someone starts talking to us, and soon after talking to us I’m getting hit on by this guy who’s just moved into the neighborhood. Balding, skinny, birdlike man, who is a former computer guy from Silicon Valley. Mostly the conversation was me saying that I was flattered but attempting to nicely rebuff the man, and obviously Paul taking a different route and telling the guy to F-off. What struck me though wasn’t the fact that it was a guy hitting on me, which I don’t mind at all, but the language the guy used when referring to me, specifically.

            Somewhere in his assessment of me he said that I had this “great Asian look about me” that he found really attractive. I think I must have visibly winced or something because he immediately took it back. But later, a few drinks in, he said something similar. Basically he said that my attractiveness, to him, came from my ambiguous ethnicity.

            Must have been about right then my blood went cold.

            Once in bed with a girl I was trying to date, kissing each other every few seconds to punctuate our sentences, I asked her why she liked me. She paused for too long, and maybe my feelings were hurt, and I asked her in all seriousness, “Am I just going to be that Mexican guy you dated?” She responded, “Isn’t that what everyone does?”

            It makes me think about the fact that sometimes people who know me still use my full name, Joe Ponce, instead of just my first name, when they talk to me, or when they refer to me in conversation. It’s as if I were a character on a t.v. show. But then I guess the theory I have is that to some people I am. I am the ambiguously ethnic friend, boyfriend, cute-guy-at-the-bar. What’s worse is that this is the sort of thought that I’m left with when relationships have ended—ignoring even the most cursory of conversations about privilege and racial acceptance—later, when they tell the story of dating me, how will they describe me? Will I be the Mexican they dated once?

            I could speak here about how difficult it is for me to be bi-racial, and the cancerous nature of being recognized not fully as an Other and not fully as a white person. I could also talk about not speaking Spanish, which (honestly more to white people than to people like my family, my fluent cousins) is a problem that tarnishes my credible alternative ethnicity. Some that know me feel comfortable saying I don’t act like a “real Mexican,” whatever that is. And I’ve been through enough security checkpoints (had enough people speed up while walking next to me, had enough people stand on the other side of the elevator) to know that I’m not exactly white, either. I feel like when I’m referred to by my full name, when I retain that level of caricature, I am simple that: a character, the tan-skinned dude.

            There’s a whole side conversation about how, somehow, to people who don’t know or ask that when it’s the middle of winter I look more Asian-American than Chicano, and how I spent a year in Turkey being mistaken for a Japanese person. (My sister gets Philipino.) There’s an internal debate in my family, same as you get with any mixed race family, about who is the most Mexican and least Mexican, the most and least white. To be honest I think it’s our way of dealing with the strange identities that are put upon us by people who aren’t in our families, who we don’t know very well (or don’t know at all) but feel confident enough to tell us what they think we are in terms that are pretty insulting.

            Maybe it’s a funny joke for people to make, sorry, for white people to make that reminds everyone else that they’re white and we’re something else. Of course that’s me being cynical, but the fact remains that it’s a privilege that I’m not afforded as a not-completely-white. We’re reminded of that lack all the time. There was a brilliant piece here about privilege from a white college student’s point of view (in response to a somewhat less open-minded point of view article about not wanting to check his privilege/not feeling like he, as a Princeton student, was all that privileged), and I think it captures the sentiment perfectly:

“When the word “I” is used, one imagines a straight white male unless there is other specification. It is impossible for other people to have identities without an “as a” appended to them. We get to say “I love you.” Whenever Sappho says “I love you” we hear “I love you, as a woman.” When Baldwin says “I love you” we hear “I love you, as a black man.”

What happens at bars that I don’t like is when what seems like a positive moment (someone else’s initial attraction to you) is based not on physical appearance by the perceived social status and cultural origin that comes with physical appearance. It would be one thing to say I was tan, for instance, but that’s not what people are saying. To some extent I worry that my love, or affection, my kisses or my dick will always be labeled and remembered as an ethnic version of the real thing.

            I didn’t feel bad for the guy when Paul harangued him for being predatory, even after I’d turned him down, and the guy eventually left. I guess he’d heard my name when I told it to the bartender for my tab, and so when I looked at my phone later I had a friend request. He had one of those nondescript names that sounds like a 50’s bit actor and an outdated hygiene appliance. I pressed ‘not now,’ and went back to my drink.

The Broken Mirror

I have, as of late, possibly maybe been watching too much Youtube.

I know, it doesn’t seem like me, making too much of something and devoting every waking hour, but sadly it has to stop. Or be cut back. As much as I like these people, I can’t spend every waking moment watching them live their lives and wasting away.

We had some people come and talk to us MFA’ers about our prospects for after grad school, and it shook me up a bit. Not in a grim way (we’re not all going to starve to death, start hawking books on the street for money) but I do think it put me in the mind to start being a bit more… deliberate? About how I live my life, with regard to my interests.

I also bought a video game for the first time in a while. Diagnosis? I prefer playing them to watching them.

Prefer living my life to watching some one else live theirs. It’s time for a change, I think.

On Board the Amazon Starcraft

I’ve been, as of late, watching quite a bit of the new Starcraft 2 campaign. We left off with the daring rescue of Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, from her mantle of leader of the Zerg Swarm by her quasi-love interest Jim Raynor. Abandoned by their former commander, Arcturus Mensk, Kerrigan was changed from a terran spy into an alien abomination, and in the previous game Raynor spent the entire game making her human again, thus fulfilling every fanboy’s fantasy about stripping the female villain of her autonomy and power and making her his girlfriend.

I spend a lot of time playing video games (or watching video games being played), and to be honest, it’s not the place where you’ll find the most accepting of cultures. On an online game of Halo or Battlefield 3 there are the obvious racial fears and homophobias you’d expect to find from the competitively anonymous, the uneducated, the low class and crassly mouthed underclass which really just represent how people would act if they thought no one was looking. A lot of times, to watch these sorts of videos, you have to be aware that the sorts of people who are entertained by these games adopt this sort of language also excuse this alpha-male, patriarchal, predominately white-oriented gaming community.

Fart jokes aside, though, things have gotten better as of late; the vast majority of gaming commentary has an awareness now of “the worst of us,” those gamers who represent the stereotype of willful ignorance and dismissal, and we as a whole acknowledge them as a portion not to be excused or listened to. In videos I watch if those sorts of gamers make crass comments, they apologize, or are forced to apologize; their comments are voted down or marked as spam and not seen by anymore. (This is pretty interesting to me, as an aside to see the crushing weight of a large, informed anonymous populous.) This community has an ability to change the landscape of the gaming world from the inside in small, incremental steps, just by doing something as simple as publicly voicing an opinion in a message board.

For instance, the video game community questioned the use of rape within the most recent Tomb Raider video game as a way of “ramping up” the action and grittiness in the same way as they would critique the graphics or the storytelling. Cultural sensitivity has gained a level playing field with the degree of aesthetics and game play; as we become smarter consumers, developers must adapt to suit. A community this particular keeps game developers on their toes, moving series like Assassin’s Creed to adopt politically correct, precisely cultural accurate representations of the Mohawk tribe in their third installment, Assassin’s Creed 3, in order to not be accused of cultural appropriation for the purpose of selling games (even going so far as to hire voice actors who spoke the Mohawk language to fill predominant roles).

Sometimes though, a story does a poor job of providing a good example in their first incarnation, and take on nuances as the story continues. It’s easy to forget that aliens don’t always have to be enemies. Science Fiction, generally, provides an example of cultures of such vast physical and philosophical differences interacting in the normal day by day basis (drinking blue milk in the local cantina, etc.) by having them interact in ways that aren’t strictly warfare. In RTS games where the view is literally skewed and removed from the reality of the situation, it’s easy to just things based on physical appearance.

In the past, Starcraft hasn’t done too good of a job giving dimension to the Zerg. This is typical The Ugly Alien Race Is Inherently Bad Syndrome, a reduction of the Klingon Syndrome. It implies a chilling story logic that story creators sometimes blanket-statement attach to a game series, film, or television and expect viewers to overlook. The problem is this: an alien race appears that is so obsessed with purity that it will assimilate or destroy every other species, and so obviously the only solution to dealing with them is to completely destroy them right back. This is the Final Orc Solution, the Final Covenant/Flood Solution, the Final Vampire Solution, etc.Storytellers make it seem quaint if some naive hero refuses to kill (out of some false sense of morality) those “inhuman” creatures who kill without thinking, and it is the duty of the storyteller and the “true” heroes to enlighten him that killing is the right way to do things.

In that sort of universe, both the heroes and villains of that world murder each other willingly and often, and Starcraft has been a world where such dirty deals are often struck, and inconsistencies of logic (I trade your genocide for my genocide!) have often been overlooked.

The Zerg, in this new series, get some much needed nuance. They are presented here as the genetic offspring of an species obsessed with evolution and adaptation: they are a fringe species, and it’s easy to dismiss them with their unpronounceable names and their scales and mucous-covered bodies. They are ugly to our eyes, and this is something even Kerrigan points out, with her dread-locked hair, that the terran (humans) will be less friendly to her, simply because of the way she looks. But because we play as them in this entire campaign, it is difficult to dismiss any of their character, the personalities that inhabit Kerrigan’s ship. While in the past they had served as a world-destroying army, that army–under the lead of a free and independently-thinking Kerrigan–don’t simply serve as simple killing machines. Her nuance of character becomes theirs.

Kerrigan, after being freed from the clutches of the Zerg, finds herself fleeing from Mengsk once again. In her escape, she loses Jim Raynor (spoilers!) and it is hinted that he may have died. Kerrigan, in a strange, somewhat retroactive move, rejoins the Zerg in order to hunt down Mengsk and kill him, find Jim Raynor, and defend the universe from some larger ominous force waiting to attack from the void.

It’s an assertive, interesting conundrum she creates in this campaign: by asserting her own will, she undoes all the things that Jim Raynor did in the last campaign in order to rescue her. Once they meet each other again, she has mutated back into the Zerg form she was before she was rescued, and he is disgusted. But because of the world the game developers have created (one in which every character is responsible for countless hundreds of thousands of deaths) Jim Raynor’s speech doesn’t hold that much weight. He isn’t a humanist pacifist, making a speech about Kerrigan has returned to her former, soulless murderous ways. He is as guilty of large, genocidal crimes as she is, for as arbitrary of reasons. A mercenary himself, he can’t be too particular about the appearance in which his own rescue arrives.

Rather, Jim seems to be saying something that a man who has grown up only fighting against other boys might say, calling them names in the message boards and over gamechat: I’d rather die than be rescued by a girl. Why couldn’t you have stayed weak, like how you were when I rescued you earlier? When did you become some so independent and strong?

It could interpreted that this is a response to the first game, in which the troubled, dangerous, and powerful woman is brought “under control” by the wise-cracking, gun-toting marine. She loses her power and prestige as the Queen of Blades to regain her humanity, which doesn’t seem like such a loss when compared to the true love of a good man. These are the lessons from the first game.

For most of this one she avoids the boys club, surrounding herself with a ship full of strong women and cautious men accepting of her role. Eventually–in the last level–Jim puts on his big boy shoes and starts following her lead, working with her ugly army, to kill the man responsible for turning her into a monster. Their is no ambiguity here: she defeats armies and takes their leaders as her lieutenants, all for revenge, to murder someone who had done her wrong. She sacrifices love (and all its patriarchal submission requirements), for her own power and will.

Why be a lady when you can be a Queen?

Keep on Swilling

Oh, how I care for a good backlit morning writing,

for a bowl of milk flavored with espresso

lines poorly written to be written again.

As the Radio Plays.

Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in. Are you aware the state I’m in? My my my, my my my, my my. I am a great, unstable, mass of blood and bones, and no one in their right mind, would make my home their home. Transfiguration is going to come for me at last, and I will burn hotter than the sun. –headphones

Some people say that the best exercise for the body is to use it, to expose it to all the stresses of life and see where it gets you. They say that despite the scary feelings, the fear, that at the end of the day you might end up a stronger person. Do I believe this? Sometimes. Sometimes I believe this. And sometimes, sometimes when I try to go to sleep I can’t help but see all the people I’m not yet, not currently, not in the least, as of now, looking like a caveman at two thirty in the morning and having no idea who I am.

It’s the first day of work, first day with a new boss. This is the last semester of graduate school. After this is over, I’m going to need to find a job. I can’t help but be constantly thinking about this. In the morning, if I don’t wake up early and start the job search I feel like garbage. If I wake up late, I sit at my desk and stare at my computer. If I open it I watch Youtube videos rather than do any work.

I am rightly and truly afraid of what will happen in my future, and I’m aware now of all those things I do to avoid thinking about it: I watch not just one episode of a television series, but a whole season, in a single sitting. I decide to watch a video of a person not just playing a game, but beating it (these videos can be up to seven or eight hours.) I buy things like tomahawks and waterproof watches and whetstones, fountain pens. I sign up to receive three new pairs of underwear every month.

Today I started working on putting together my resume and transcript for a potential fellowship, but I couldn’t find my resume on my new computer and had to open up the old one. In clearing out some documents and transferring my old resumes to my new computer, I noticed I still had Minecraft installed on the computer. It still ran. I still had Team Fortress 2 downloaded. Both of these needed to be updated before I could play them. Four hours later, I had ridden in a boat for about an hour and built myself a house made of bookshelves and cobblestone, and had only a beautiful view of a pixelated sunset to show for those past four hours of very severely avoiding all of my other responsibilities.

Nights like tonight I feel guilty about going to bed after midnight but can’t seem to get to bed. I can’t call anyone and explain this to them. I’ve been conscious of money since the loan stuff hasn’t come through yet. I’ve been using the credit card too much, so much so that people I hang out with have started to notice. I can’t see the end game here. I started to look into the Marines again, and know that’s where I go when I’m afraid: paid labor, the certainty of a career for the next seven years. Or more.

I remember playing Minecraft in Turkey, when I sad and hopelessly homesick. I would sit in my little apartment and look out at the mountains and feel such a debilitating fear of leaving to even explore the little town I lived in that I’d spend the next twelve hours mining for pixelated coal and iron, making a castle of cobblestone and dirt. Digging holes, laying down foundations. I was hiding out from the world, first in Turkey, and more in my computer. There were just so many bad things that could happen, and so many mistakes that could be made. I couldn’t help but see them. It didn’t matter if anyone else knew; I’d know, and that seemed almost worse. So many opportunities never taken, all those trips I never took.

When this anxiety hits it’s like a crippling paralysis of my entire body. I can’t sleep. I am so far off the radar from what anyone I have ever known has done that I don’t know what to do with myself.

***

On Saturday I went to a party for people from my college who did this undergraduate program in New York City, back when New York seemed like the biggest place in the world. Now it wasn’t the young-ness of all the students that really did a number on me, it wasn’t the people I hadn’t heard from (those teachers who hadn’t aged well, whose strange demeanor towards women was actually a bit more offensive than I remember), or the drama instructor who insisted I call him Steven and not Steve (I’m giving myself away there, but it was weird), no. I felt old. It has only been four fucking years, and I feel like a ghoul. I am the ghost of Christmas Happened So Long Ago I’ve Started To Forget. One of my ex’s was there, one I really liked but it was back when I was young and stupid and fumbled it so perfectly. She was kind and her kindness always makes me feel so shitty. When she hasn’t heard from me in a while she say’s it’s alright, that she just assumes I’m busy with school or have a new girl. She’s not wrong. We went to a bar, later, the lot of us, and while my friend hit it off in a seriously killer way with one of these students, I tried to avoid the arrow-eyes of some co-ed who reminded me a lot of a certain type of girl from college I remember letting myself getting wrapped up in and then feeling really disgusting about years later, when I got out of those things the same way people wake up from comas.

I’ve been so many people since then, I thought. This must be some kind of a joke.

I no longer end nights like that by wanting to try to sleep with my ex-girlfriend, though we take the same train home. I feel extremely lucky that she still talks to me, after the crap I’ve pulled. It seems appropriate, in moments like that, that I’ve let my beard and hair grow out so that I barely look like a person anymore. If anyone were to ask me why, I’d say I just wanted my outside to match my insides.

***

Money Money Money. And the Youtube channels I watch and subscribe to that make forty thousand dollars a month. The book that one could write that’d get a six-figure advance. And the person I admire the most? My high school friend who sold himself down the river in debt to open up his own arcade. Him I admire the most. I think to myself, well I’ll teach. I’ve done it for a year. Am I lying to myself about the three months where they didn’t know what to do with me, and I sat in my apartment and watched Man Men or took the city bus to the university and sat at a desk straight for eight hours, playing video games? Or am I dwelling on how I pulled up the nose of that miserable, nose-diving plane by offering myself day after day as a private tutor, to sit in cafeterias and help sophomores with their intro English workbook activities, to go out to dinners to improve someone’s understanding of the subjunctive? I survived that, and I wish there was a way to show that on a resume. There were wild dogs. There was a half-built university where the lights didn’t work in any of the bathrooms and an apartment in the mountains without heat and a treadmill that electrocuted me when I tried to turn up the speak. This is shit I couldn’t make up. So I’m banking on my strange mix of half-assed experiences and real, literal success in academia to get me a job actually teaching in a way that I would consider making myself useful.

These last few weeks have been awful because of the opposite of that feeling, which feels like hooks in my skin sometimes, like drowning slow in deep water.

I have to remind myself that my cynicism in this moment is the product of stress, but it doesn’t it make it feel any less real. (That’s actually what I do when I haven’t gotten enough sleep, is tell myself that everything I see isn’t real, and that’s how I get through the day.) I guess it’s an asset to think this way, or at least this is what I’ve been told by my psychologist. I know that he would talk me through the stressors of my current moment, which here would be that most recent interaction with my own unresolved past, and the predicament of my unknown future, and that he’d tell me something like these things have to happen, have to, and that there’s no way around them other than to stop living and that’s my worst fear in the world, is the complete stop, and that’s not what I want, not at all. What I feel like he would tell me to do in a moment like this, since I’m not the sort to call my friends at this hour, is to write about about it.

***

Sometimes I think my solitude is intentional and large, and has been going on since I was a kid. I didn’t want to explain the complicated feelings that I was going through, and I knew that it would put me at a disadvantage to people. They would know what I was about, which is, and always has been, a scary thought. My good friends are those who’ve lived through one or two of my supreme anxious moments or freakouts or breakdowns and didn’t look at me like some kind of mutant later. But still I’d feel guilty telling them about this moment tonight. It’s so much easier when people ask to say that life’s going well, instead of saying at that moment, in those precise fucking seconds you’re talking to them, that you are currently doing the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life, which is pretending to know what you’re doing. It is always pretending to know what you’re doing, and trying to laugh it off, and hoping the few laughs get you through it.

Because it’s all insane. There are rants here. About the mid-twenties relationship and how I should really be looking for someone to marry. About the book industry, and how much of the year I should spend in a tanning booth if I’m going to have any luck on the book tour circuit. About academia, and how many bad writers I know who want to become teachers (and how many bad writers want to be writers.) About the Midwest, and how I can never ever go back there. About my family, and responsibility. About my childhood dream of being a writer, and how it changes so drastically every few months from what I imagined it would be that sometimes I wonder what a younger me would think about what I’m doing right now. About keeping normal hours, about getting a normal job, about trying to prove to myself and to everybody else through the keeping of jobs I didn’t want to have and doing things I didn’t want to do that I was, above all, completely and utterly normal, and how I feel like they all must be kidding, all of them, when people ask you to do stuff like this.

Things hold, though. I’ve never felt like I needed to write the book I’m writing more than I do sitting at a table in a coffee shop and crossing shit out that doesn’t matter. I re-wrote a scene the other day where a boy falls in love with a girl that was shaky before and now seems very sweet and I think to myself, did I learn to fall in love somewhere between then and now? I was able to explain my disbelief in God in a way that made sense to my brother, the Catholic. I had a conversation where I didn’t worry about if I seemed interesting, while talking to a girl. I have simply started to speak. When my roommate comes in my room she says she likes how tidy I keep it, and laughs at my bookshelf made of leftover planks from IKEA bed slats. And it reminds me of the house I built in the middle of a pixelated ocean made of cobblestone and bookshelves and stairs leading up to a bed resting right next to a tree with a view of the sun rising like a big yellow (square) coin. I have built my home, just for me, at the end of the world. Yes, I know where I built it. I know that the stairs don’t have rails and a lot of the art is dark. I know that I watch Youtube videos for hours and hours and hours and that the night before something big happens in my life, some vital transition, that I get so nervous about what’s going to happen that I can’t sleep. When I was little I used to leave room on one side of my bed for the person I knew would some day sleep there, and I used to think a person like that might be able to calm me down in moments like this. But it’s never been anybody else taking away the world from me. Nobody has ever been able to successfully explain why pain exists, to me, or why we must bear it as often as we do as a matter of course. Nowadays I realize a lot of what I want from someone else is a sigh, and an admission that they too don’t know what they’re doing. It’s not that I want to avoid other people’s laughter, but I just want to learn to be okay with it.

***

I think about what this would look like, how I would want this to go.

“Hey.”

“You’re not sleeping.”

“I’m not tired.”

She sits up on one elbow. If she had glasses, she’d be putting them on. “Something wrong?”

“Yes and no.”

She smirks. “It’s a big day tomorrow.”

If I was smart, I’d let her explain to me how wrong I’ve got all of this. “Anybody,” she said, “would be a little nervous about things changing.”

“Yea.” Because I think I’m smarter than everyone, I let them have their little moment where they think they’ve consoled me, the inconsolable person.

Given to speeches, and fatalistically romantic, she’d say that of course at two in the morning I’d want to do this to myself, make the world seem as if it was ending. Use hyperbolic sentences to express myself, make everything in the world seem so dire. As if I didn’t solve this problem, I’d die. And by solving it, I regain my right to live. But, because she’s a realist, deep down, because she swats me for comments I’ve only thought about making, she tells it to me straight: the world doesn’t really give a shit, though. It would continue whether or not you were ready. And everybody, everybody has problems like these. It will never stop, it will always keep going, and this can either be a good thing or it can be a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be the best thing, or the worst, and as long as we’re both awake why don’t you kiss me like you’ve discovered another reason to live?

I would be proud to know someone like that. And what a bitch that would be, if that is all this really is.

Any Highly Advanced Technology is Indistinguishable

Good Evening, folks. Hope your new year has started, your hangovers have died down to bearable levels, and the black eye your currently nursing goes unnoticed for the next couple of days.

My friend Luigi got us into an exclusive party with a friend of his, which was a bar and I thought was a house party, but it’s cool. Of the two, I’d much rather go to a house party because it’s possible–though very unlikely–to find a spot where you can actually hear the words of the person you’re speaking to.

On our way to the bar Luigi and I went over the possibilities of things that could go wrong.

“The drinks aren’t free.”

“It’s a sex party. Huge orgy.”

“Your friend invited you to confess her undying love to you.”

“Bears. Huge, zombie bears.”

The party was crowded in that excessive bar-way that meant constantly touching people’s backs to get by them. But these people’s backs were in tuxedos and slinky black, blue, and gold dresses. Armani, Zara, Ralph Lauren, and a cadre of bow-ties in plaid and checker prints. It was, in a word, the most disgustingly swanky party I’ve ever been to.

I tried, very desperately, to keep from having any fantasies about meeting a girl on New Year’s Eve. For how cliche that would be, and for how previous years have gone with that in mind.  I figured, if the only thing I accomplished on this New Year’s Eve was talking to Luigi, getting drunk and wandering home and watching shitty action movies, well, then I would be no better or worse off than last year.

Luigi and I basically assume that any couple we see on New Year’s Eve is at some point going to get into a fight. Those people over there, hugging as they board the subway? Fight. Those two necking at the end of the bar? Bitter argument, then fight. Taxis will be missed and people will drink too much and be too drunk for the midnight kiss. Boys will misinterpret girls and girls will overestimate their boys. No one will have eaten enough.

And then I sat down next to this lady and we started talking about books and suddenly I was very much smitten and gross and going against my own plans, whatever they were, and whatever cynical bastardness solitude had made me into. I met a nice lady at a bar and we had a very nice time.

I failed. I failed horribly at being an old curmudgeon. Welcome, said the New Year, to 2013.

Foe Hammer Lamentations

Are we different people, depending on who we are with? I don’t doubt this; it’s easy after a while to be remembered as a memory, rather than a person. You are the boy who dated a hundred women to those who saw it, and poorly remember what silly little things you at the time considered grand romances.

I think each day adds to our complexity, and so those who know for a short time have less to go on, and therefore we should not worry if they consider us dishonest or foolish or hopelessly naive. I admit I do this. Constantly.

I saw an old friend of mine from high school today. He owns a business now selling anime toys and trinket shop that is also an arcade. He and his girlfriend run the shop together, and seem to be doing alright with it. I was excited to see it opened; he has for a long time worked in arcades, first as a cashier in high school and for a long time afterwards (he didn’t go to college), eventually becoming a manager and then regional manager and buying his own arcade games and then renting them out at conventions. Now he has quite a few, and a store. My old friend from high school who never went to college owns a business. Now, six years after we graduated from high school, he is a self-made man.

He and his girlfriend argue like gangbusters, and he’s very cleverly escaped a path that had nothing for him but a rap sheet of stupid romantic adventures and even dumber criminal ones. Tonight at dinner I said to him that we both were a hairs breadth from ending up in a very worse place, when we got to talking about friends who we lost track of, who very well might be in jail now. When I talked to his girlfriend later she said they were thinking of moving to Iowa. That’s where she’s from, and where all her friends are. “I don’t have any friends here,” she said, “That aren’t my boyfriend’s.” She said he doesn’t seem to need friends, and so the move for him would be less of a big deal. Since I’ve already left, there’s not really much point in staying.

He and I were vagabonds of the worst sort in high school, barely keeping together the facade of good Catholic schoolboys; we were often in trouble but not too much, often annoying to the teachers but not in a way they could peg, and most of all questioning of the whole of that miserable suburban existence, and wanting to get out. Thankfully we found video games (and each other), rather than the long list alternative extracurriculars we could have become involved in, like the one that got seven of our classmates arrested for the stuff they were selling out of the trunk of their car. We stole things; we acted as though women were impossible conquests and a certain sort found that charming and were seduced; we stayed up so late that as we drove home we watched the sunrise past tree branches and rubbed our eyes with jittery fingers. So when I think of my friend, I think of another almost inmate, a fellow escapee, who I used to worry would let himself get trapped not physically, but in his head, into thinking there was nothing beyond the sorry lot of people we knew who amounted to so little it might as well have been nothing.

Still, when I come home, I am his Writer Friend. If I become a substitute teacher it will still be the most exotic thing he’s ever heard of, because it will be in New York. I am the friend who comes into town and tries to meet a woman in the few weeks I have here, one to sweep off her feet and leave her wondering when, if ever, I’ll return. He laughs at me and these anatomical pursuits. Not that he’s beyond them, but he’s taken now. His mind is occupied in other ways. He wonders if I’m dating anyone–possibly–because he wonders when, if ever, I’ll settle down, if I’ll ever be able to tell anybody what my long term plans are. And each time I come back to him with a new redhead Valkyrie woman I’ve envisioned in my dreams, he laughs.

Once at an Renaissance Faire I got the phone number of a girl who, after about a month of texting, turned out to be sixteen. I hadn’t even thought to ask. (Reality, it can be a bitch.) Another was a girl we met at the same time and he smiled and nodded and laughed; later, the next time I saw that girl, she had recently become a veteran of the Iraq War and had also very recently become pregnant. (She told people we’d fucked, which seemed a sorry lie to me only because it never happened.) While we worked in the arcade together a girl from another store showed an interest in me–while taken–and only then did my friend play his card out, and I wondered what we all–the lot of us–looked like: kids fumbling with each other’s t-shirts on the hoods of cars outside the Applebee’s; delinquents in a Steak and Shake at one in the morning, ordering nothing but milkshakes and giving each other our phone numbers on the backs of receipts; horny little bastards leaning on our elbows over the counter of a Renaissance Faire pickle stand, trying to look down the shirt of the girl behind the counter. His rap sheet is just as bad (or worse) than mine. He laughs, of course, because he is as guilty as I am. As we all are. 

It’s good to see him because all this goes into anything I ask his advice about. He knows me, through and through, because he’s watched all of these events. We’ve laughed about them together. For a while we both worried that the other wouldn’t find whatever it was that kept us restless, that made us slightly dangerous to those around us because of the general sort of dissatisfaction we exuded. Later it would seem like teenage angst what at the time–had we lived a hundred years ago or so–definitely seemed like a desire to leave to the farthest place we could get to. Now, having been a few more places, I understand the difference between dissatisfaction and the desire for growth. He was always supposed to own his own business. He hates taking orders. He ended up with a tough-as-nails woman. No one else can put up with him. A hundred years ago we might have owned a hardware store together, or a bar, or a diner.

The women I sell with dreams of a possible future with me involve personal enterprise: a store of my very own. A bookstore, possibly, or a coffee shop, or a diner, someplace where in the morning, the afternoon, late into the night people can congregate and talk, and eat and laugh and tell stories and live their lives. All my favorite memories involve sitting and talking, eating and laughing. Then, it doesn’t seem so much a romantic dream as a vast reality, a deeper and grander reality. 

For as long as I’ve known him I’ve just been waiting for him to accomplish those things he said he would, some to come, some already. 

       

 

Prelude to a Hot, Wet, Mess of a Snowstorm

We went back to the mall today. I had more presents to get–surprising how de-stressing it is to get all your shopping done–but really, it was about going to see if I could go to that coffee shop again, and run into Mysterious Redhead Barista. Short story: wasn’t there. Drank a whole Iced Coffee Sugary Mess and became immediately too caffeinated. As we walked through the mall me and my sister ran into my aunt, who’d just come from Victoria Secret, and in the middle of one of my stupid jokes (“Just buying something for yourself today, Aunt B?”) I noticed that cute Redhead was working at the Other Gloria Jeans Coffeehouse in the Mall.

My first thought was, that’s not fair.

My sister explained to me this was it. Fate was happening. I needed to go over there immediately. I needed to order something else. I disagreed. “It doesn’t feel like fate to me,” I said, still holding my Sleigh Ride Iced Mochaccino. “It seems like the exact opposite of fate.”

I’ll be able to get by on the look she gave me as I walked back, watching as I slurped down the rest of the whipped cream and peppermint.

###

Finished some of the huge mountainous pile of shit I need to get done before next semester. I’m trying to imagine if printing out the entire two hundred or so pages of confusing, convoluted writing is worth printing out, or if I should conduct some sort of ritualistic bonfire in my backyard and burn the whole lot of it. Along with the amulet, and the voices…

Rohmer and Evens said they liked my stuff, Evens even taking hold of my hand in a bar and looking me right in the eye. “You cannot stop what you were doing,” she said, as if I were a character in an Indiana Jones movie. She doesn’t need to worry. Whatever novel I’m writing, I enjoy writing it. So I’ll keep writing it. More or less writing seems to just be simply nerve and ass-to-chair.

Went to the library again across the street. They have the same copier as we do at work, so I thought I could get around paying. I know. I know what you’re thinking. But the thievery didn’t work; closed network or something, and so I needed to use their ScanStation (TM) and scan each page individually. 

This morning I also drank a cappucino and watched an hour and a half of Youtube videos. Super, epically productive.

 

 

       

More Questions of Coat and Waistcoat

I’m watching videos of a female gamer. It’s 1:14 in the morning and I’m thinking, I’m thinking to myself it must be that this girl’s from Oregon. 

There must be something about people from Oregon.

(More on that later.)

By now I’m an avid fan of YouTube. Fan as in, takes the place of television. As in I don’t go to bed when I should. There’s a lot of latent guilt, even though I’ve been out of school for about a week now.

Somewhat likely to have ADHD, says the free quiz with the guy from Maroon Five.

(If I edited everything I thought was terrible I’d get nowhere. If I edited out all the troubling things there’d be nothing left to say. That there is trouble is reason enough to write.)

This morning I went to the library, and thought, surely this is where all the old folks go, and where I would’ve gone if I’d chosen to stay in Joliet. Funny thought. I am home for X-mas and sleeping in my old bed again, which creaks as I move around in it and makes me reminisce in that lecherous, pervy way that all 24-year-olds secretly are underneath all that bravado.

While trying to get the listserv to work I somehow managed to flummox it (possibly a hyperlink problem…?), and spent two hours e-mailing a server staid of writing. I was editing, which I hate doing. The story used to be a place to go when you couldn’t say what you wanted out loud. Everything, to a person like that, is important to say, and un-cuttable.

Things like that only become troubling, for instance, the moment one person comes onstage. The movement from journaling to publishing (with blogs going who knows where).

But I’m writing because I’m thinking about this girl. This Artful Girl.

I think a lot about my interactions with television series and the internet shows I watch. They say that after a while you get to know these people on the shows and the internet as if they were actual people you were interacting with. You watch, not out of any enjoyment, but out of a sort of familiarity. You know the routine, the little tics, and then it becomes all about watching them in a new situation. So and so is afraid of spiders and–oh no!–a spider farm has opened up next door–WHAT WILL THEY DO?

We watch because we half want to be able to predict their actions and half want them to surprise us. These things happen in parameters. Most characters are highly unlikely to die, or worse, become unlikeable. Nobody in television will ever suffer from being boring. They are safe for us to watch, and we are safe in watching them. It’s why it’s all so enjoyable, because of a lack of pain.

(Spider farm. I went there.)

Currently the staff of the Yogscast are raising money for bee farms in Africa. Forty-five thousand pounds already, I believe, is where they are. I am very fucking happy about that (barring my cynicism, my secret belief that everybody just keeps all money raised for themselves). I laud their efforts, and I enjoy their podcasts–even some of the more boring ones. I’ve even–yes, I know how this sounds–tried to get to know them. The Wikis tell you somethings–real names, colleges–(and if a person were to continue down the rabbit hole, to Facebook, “Pictures”,  “Friends”) but in watching the videos you can learn a lot more than superficial details.

For instance: Sips lives in New Jersey. He was offered a job with the rest of the staff in Bristol, when the Yogscast started to get big, but turned it down because of his family. He has a baby girl, and quite possibly an “actual job.” How much can you trust the popularity of an internet sensation, one might wonder?

What I wonder is, will he ever make the move?

Suddenly it feels very real. Or I’m reading too much into this.

But, I want him to be successful. I want them all to be successful.    

No doubt too I’d become familiar with Artful, too. Then again, because she’s a woman–and how much do I seem hardwired, with that comment?–and that might have something to do with my avid interest. My staying up to write this love letter, this ode. My own little, creepy thing.

This afternoon after another viewing of Skyfall–gorgeous movie, btw–while wandering around the mall with mother and sister, spotted a girl behind the counter at a Gloria Jeans Coffee or whatever its called. Actually, sister spotted her. Red head, ponytail. Mildly frazzled-looking, asked me if I needed help or had any questions (?) as I was checking out a Star Wars mug (that sister ended up getting for me…YES) and in line my sister pointed her out to me (as if I hadn’t noticed). Sister smiled a lot at the girl, while I did the “Oh, Does My Family Have Heavy Things I Can Lift For Them? I’ll Just Go Ahead And Start Picking Shit Up” routine, which did nothing at all. As we left sister explained to mother, that when a girl is hanging out with a guy that she’s friends with and they both see a girl that the boy admits is attractive, the girl should smile at the attractive girl, to show that the guy is acceptable or something. A Catch.

As ridiculous as this sounds it seems like something I already knew.

I started planning how I would get to the mall again, and soon.

***

In a large enough cityspace it is possible to find an adequate subculture in which to fit yourself. So they say. But the city is no longer the largest measurement of community. The community is. Somehow we’ve found a way to get larger and more intimate at the same time, or we’re trying. One starts to feel experimented upon (paranoid, worried about the last thing one may or may not have taken with the guy who looked a bit like Hugo from lost during the Hurricane to End All Hurricanes, etc, et al.), concerned about how all of this will play out.

I don’t have the mind, or the time, to follow Twitter and Facebook and Youtube the way other people seem to follow it. I know no new news, have no new updates, have nothing new to share.

I think often about how I used to want to make little videos and get some of those true funny human moments on tape–back when me and Shyguy lived in NY for those few months–and I’m regretful. I want to have done more, to have networked better, to have done more of those projects I wanted to do. The Art Magazine that is still in mothballs, the webisodes.

(FrancesFarmer says that we’re told we’re not supposed to gush, that gushing is bad because it is emotional, and not contained. Here I am gushing. Wouldn’t she be proud?) 

Perhaps I’m jealous of the Yogscast, of Artful, of their success. It might just be their bravery, though. In putting themselves out there, they do something I don’t like to do. In letting their voices sound how voices sound when they’re not just in your head. I think that’s what it is. They are, in their own little boxes, hopelessly themselves. And that’s why when people peek into how I live my life–them with their own little, creepy hobbies–they roll their eyes or they try not to say something snide. And sure I feel bad about myself sometimes, and the things I do–the little crushes on a certain sort of woman that I’ll never, never in a thousand years go up to (because it’s so much more fun to have the fantasy than get hit in the face, literally, with the reality of the situation), the Youtube videos, the writing–are strange ways to get along. But they’re mine. This is where I go. This is the headspace that feels the most refreshing, the honestly and truly bizarre. The confidently weird.

Maybe I’ll never go back to the mall and see that girl again. I’ve cast out lines like that before that just sat in the boat watching the water plenty of times. You never do know, either way.

Unless at the right moment, you say something. 

Observing a Movement

 

She arrived, late, for the train. For a long time she stood on the platform. When it pulled into the station it was crowded, and she found a seat underneath a man who hadn’t bathed since yesterday. Walking to work was a chore from the station; it’d rained the night before and everything was muddied in a layer of storm-thrown leaves. The elevator brought her to her floor without complaint, restraint, or complication, and for this she was appreciative.

 

All of this took an hour and a half.

 

When he was born his skin was blue. His father listened at the door of the doctor’s personal office and misheard a conversation about a dead dog, and was horrified. The baby grew. He carried a picture of himself on his dresser from a time his father had taken him to a pool as an toddler; you can see both the father’s smile and the toddler’s squeamishness with being in the water, with wearing floaties, and with staring into the sun. All this seems to make the father extremely happy.

For the majority of his life he lived at the bottom of a hill that sloped and leveled out and sloped again. At the bottom of the hill was a ravine, which should have scared the boy but didn’t. To him it was the start of some immense forest, him mimicking the heroes he’d heard of in adventure stories. When he was eight they bought him a bicycle that looked like a motorcycle. They made him practice in a parking lot, with his father correcting his posture and his wobble, and they stayed there until the sun set. The day he finally got to go down the hill, he skidded for ten feet at the bottom of the hill, for it was gravel and he hadn’t known that. Maybe later he was a bit more cautious of the hill, but he never lost his taste for that motorcycle. Years later, he would still want one, still remembering having barreled down that hill, still tasting the rocks thrown up from his wheels, and still feeling the bite of a road that kept knocking him down.  

 

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