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I hurt my back yesterday. Iím not sure how; I bent over to pick something up and when I stood up, my lower back was a tangled knot of shooting pain.
Iím too young to have back problems. Maybe itís the 60 extra pounds Iím hauling around that I keep promising myself Iím going to get rid of starting Sunday, Monday, the day after tomorrow, as soon as I am done with this project and I can concentrate on it.
But for now, I am going to lie on the floor, drink beer and wish that my back didnít hurt.
Two days ago, I read my first Bukowski poem. It was a strange sensation for me; that something could be so simple and direct, yet so complicated and brutal.
I decided to reach out beyond my circle of favorite writers and find someone who wrote things I didnít want to read: poetry, books about marketing trends in social media, the musings of a bored Manhattan socialite. Iíd rather sit on a nail that read any of these things.
But the poem opened something up in me; a door to the possibility of language flung wide and stared back at me.
I have strange obsessions that I cannot shake. Some are temporary and some have lasted my whole life.
I thought I saw one tonight, walking through the door of my new job. A hot, embarrassed flush of anger hit me in the face, telling everyone that something had suddenly gone wrong.
I had prayed to God to take this obsession away; I asked for relief from the maddening sense of desperation and hopelessness. God lifted it from me in an act of grace.
But the devil took the obsession by the hand and led it right back through my door.
I threw my back out. Iím too young for this shit. Just yesterday, I was playing on the swings and jumping out of trees. Today, Iím on my back, hot pad tied to my waist, watching Oprah reruns and asking my wife for more coffee.
Listen, says my body, listen to me. I am falling apart on you because you havenít taken care of me; youíve fed me the wrong things, drank us into premature old age and stuffed us full of junk.
But worst of all, I quit on you because youíve stopped swinging and jumping out of trees.
I like to have two hours quiet time in the morning to write. I get up, drink a cup of coffee, eat a muffin, take a shower and sit at my desk. My goal is to be writing within 60 minutes of rolling out of bed. I keep the TV off, no reading and no radio.
But the laptop sits screaming for attention: maybe someone updated their status, maybe thereís a funny picture you havenít seen yet, what about todayís headlines? What if you just checked your email for a second?
The hardest part of writing is ignoring that screaming.
The men sat in a wide circle, staring at each other in silence. The embers in the fire died before a man spoke.
We will not leave until it is finished. The circle nods. Our duty demands we finish, said another. The circle nodded again.
The smallest man among them stood up to speak. It is our duty to thrive, to continue, to send our seed into the world. Waiting until it is over, waiting until we are done, is forever forsaking our sacred duty. Standing and dying is worse than living and waiting for our ancestors to exact revenge.
My friend won a contest for the best short story by a new writer. The prize is nominal: a nod in an obscure literary journal, 15 comments of encouragement on a website no one reads and 150 dollars. I told her the whole thing was a scam- it wasnít really a contest to judge the quality of work by new writers; it was a fundraising ploy that ran off the entry fee people sent in.
She said I was too cynical and besides, who cares. The important thing was that she sat down and wrote a good story that won.
The shift starts at 4:30 but I like the staff to be here at 4:15 and totally ready to go, the manager said. Thatís no problem. Iíll be here by then.
I didnít want the job; I didnít want to be here at any fucking time. Iím only doing this because I donít have money coming in from my writing and the rent I donít have is due in three weeks.
So I nod, ask questions about the uniform and seethe inside that I'm reduced to this. Make sure that you wear a smile for tomorrowís shift, the manager says.
Relax into the flow and let it take you. Donít fight, donít struggle, just let the path take your feet and move them along. Observe, process, report, do not walk, do not pass go.
A boy I grew up with is in prison for molesting the neighbors. I dreamt recently that I was escorting him to prison, preparing him for the horror he was facing.
He sent me secret reports through an airduct. He said things werenít as bad inside as they seemed. His bed was comfortable, he could wrap himself in warm blankets and his mother was still alive.
We filled the bathtub up with dirty dishes, let the water run until it the top and shut the door. Too many drugs, too much booze, too much self-abuse, not enough sleep to give much of a shit after that. Out of sight, out of mind right?
I stumbled into the bathroom one night, drunk and horny, and looked at the filmy soap scum floating on the water in the tub. I could see my reflection in the grease; slick hair matted, teeth filmy, skin pocked.
Dirty dishes in a bathtub we donít use to bathe anymore: this is bottom.
The girl in front of him, laying on the bed, didnít look like how he thought a horny woman should. Where were the high heels, the begging for it and the fuck me right nows?
Her thing wasnít bald; it had hair all over it. She didnít move, just waited for him with strange warmth in her eyes. I thought she did it all. Iím not sure what I am supposed to do? Why isnít she taking charge? The girl always services the man on the videos. I thought thatís the way itís supposed to be.
Why is she smiling?
I wish I had kept a memory album all those years I was lost out in the wilderness. It would make convincing people that the wild ride Iíve been on for the last 20 years is true much easier.
I have no pictures, no memorabilia, no comrades left from that period. I have no proof that Iíve gone from a drug-addicted teenager to sober, middle-aged yuppie.
No one believes the stories I tell because all the people involved are dead and gone. With the rash of bullshit memoirs, the credibility requirement is so much higher than it used to be.
My wife and I have a constant tug of war over the philosophical approach to life that we should have. We are the difference between crisis mode and casual Friday.
She wants to be responsible, consistent and cautious. I want to throw caution, responsibility and consistency out the window. Live free and die fast and all of that sort of thing.
Itís a warm day out; our first in six months. She is inside, doing our taxes, while I am angrily stomping around because I want to be outside playing.
Let her do the taxes; I am going outside now.
The breeze blowing in through my window is warm and fresh. But it is too cold to go outside yet. Iím torn between sitting at my desk with a t-shirt on or bundle up and go sit outside with a glass of red wine.
Iíd like to think that I would choose to go outside, brave the elements and be a real trooper, maybe read some Hemingway, and suffer the cold with quiet grace.
But the truth is less romantic than that; Iíll drink shitty beer, eat shittier food and watch shitty TV, wondering why I didnít go outside.
Fucking complaining, thatís all I get out of you. The same shit over and over again. Why canít you figure out what makes you least unhappy and work with that.
Jonas stared at his wife as she shouted. The veins in her neck stood out and her hands shook as she yelled. I canít take this anymore, being trapped in this place. I have to get out; I have to live the life I had before I signed everything over to you.
Jonas let her scream out. Sweetheart, coming here was your idea, he said. I wanted to stay home.
Almost done with another chapter, he said. By the end of the week, Iíll have nine of the thirteen chapters done. He shook his massive head and his long hair rippled onto his shoulders.
God, I hate him, thought Kate. If he didnít bring in so much money, Iíd tell him and his fucking mustache to just die. Old ladies panties get wet every time he opens his hack mouth and I have to deal with his bullshit.
I am going to the Cape next weekend. Then Iíll start on chapter ten while I am there. It will be magnificent.
We are within a word or two of winning the battle of wits against our enemy. How often do we get a chance to flesh out the substance of our argument with such unfettered, mad passion? They will see and they will learn that we are not ones to be matched against.
But the word, the word is key, the word is paramount in finally ending this nonsense. Shall we use fulsome, or necromantic or debilitation? Hard to say which word will deliver the final hammer blow when it falls on the tin ears of our long-hated, empiricist, pretend enemies.
I should have an affair, thought Milton as he watched his wife undress. That would show her that she canít control me anymore. Show her Iím not a puppet, I canít be told what to do just because she thinks I can.
His wife lifted her shirt over her head. He looked at her naked torso and the familiar desire rumbled through his stomach. Sheís still hot, he thought. I could fuck her right here if I wasnít trying to prove a point.
Her breasts popped out of her bra, nipples already hard. He stood up and walked to her.
Art requires activity and happiness. Sometimes, I get so unhappy because Iím so inactive. I just donít know what to do with myself. I sit, gnashing my teeth, wailing and moaning, covering myself in ashes because I havenít done any activity in days.
My art, beginner as it is, stagnates, and I become so terribly unhappy. Itís trite to call it a vicious cycle but it is: the unhappier I am, the less active I become. The more inactive I am, the unhappier I become.
I never understood until now how I could go so long without engaging my art.
I like words like scrimshaw and haberdashery and participle. The words are active and pulsing; yet, I havenít the faintest idea what they mean.
Haberdashery is about hats, but it makes me think of running off in a hurry, arms flailing, gums flapping, tails aflutter. Scrimshaw feels like epic battle; groups of men fighting the enemy.
The truth is, I know exactly what these words mean; I just have more fun pretending I donít.
Once, a girl I dated found rubberbands all over the neighborhood and didnít know where they came from; I never told her the mailman dropped them.
My Jennifer, oh Jenny, lost her favorite penny. I gave her a dollar; she kissed me and I hollered. Iíve sung this to my best friend a thousand times. She still laughs, even after all these years, every time I say it.
I used to write short stories in college about a boy madly in love with his best friend. We had an understanding; we simply pretended that those stories didnít really exist.
We've had hard times, good times, constantly-changing times together. I told her once that I was going to give her a million dollars for a million kisses.
The two women that owned the last restaurant I worked at were unpleasant and mean to be around. They took themselves, and their little restaurant, way out in the middle of nowhere, way too seriously.
They made a poor girl train for an extra two weeks, without any tip money, because she forgot to clear the salt from their table.
The womenís ugliness permeated the dťcor, turning the staff sour and the food bitter and tart. The wait staff knew to hide the fact that the saltiness of those two was used to preserve the meat and season the stock.
An ode to the Punky on her 30th birthday: today my sweet, I get to pay you back for the wonderful party you threw for me on my 30th. All of my friends were there, on a Chicago porch. You put it together. You made the bleu cheese dip I still rave about.
I promise to do everything in my power to always surround you with friends, to make you feel as loved and safe as I did all of those years ago.
Hereís to you, my precious Punky, may God bless you with a life of love and happiness.
I wrote her back almost immediately after getting her message. I didnít think about it what I should and shouldnít say. I loved her; for the first time in my life I truly loved someone else, and when she left it killed me. I was stranded for years, without direction, without faith, without love.
Thatís one way of looking at it, or you can look at it like it probably was; I was too scared to take a risk, too scared to even try. It was easier to hang on to what mightíve been than to deal with what was.
I didnít get anything done today. I am not sure why. I just stared at my Facebook page, hoping that someone would send me a message. It didnít happen. Somehow it became the middle of the night and all that I have to show for it is three empty Diet Coke cans, and empty potato chip bag and several well-watered office plants. I also learned all about Motley Crue on Wikipedia.
The thing is, my income is directly proportional to how much I motivate myself during the day. My wife wonít leave me alone about paying the rent this month.
Kenyon erected a ragged tent of old sleeping bags and plastic sheeting in the woods behind the gas station. His castle, as he called it, was a disheveled, multi-colored mound, barely held together but permanently held in place by the failure of his life. The ground was littered with trash. He had given up.
My brother, the guy who showed me how to pop a wheelie, throw a punch and carve my initials into a tree, was living in a tent of rags and trash behind the gas station where we used to steal candy when we were kids.
If Iíve said it once, Iíve said it a billion times to myself- ďOnce the pen starts moving, there is no stopping it. The challenge is to get it moving.Ē
The dichotomy for me is, while the pen is mightier than the sword, it is a lot easier to start swinging a sword than it is to pick up a pen.
Iíd rather slice through watermelons at the County Fair or chase after burglars in my underwear, sword flailing above my head, than to sit down with a pen, in a quiet spot and confront all of my insecurity demons.
I am sad about things that happened a long time ago. More than a third of my life has passed since my worst heartbreak and yet, still, every once in a while, a twinge of regret will poke itís head out from behind the laughter of my wife or the curve of a neck in a crowd.
Itís silly for me to feel this way. Itís been so long that I forget things like a name or a face. I had to learn the hard way that itís not a person that I miss, but the desperate feeling of belonging.
Why do you think I canít remember my motherís birthday? I remember every other birthday in the family but hers. I know that itís in the last week of March. I even have it narrowed down to three days.
But every year, I have to call my father, hoping that she doesnít answer, and ask him which day is her birthday. I donít feel too bad. I am a product of her forgetful and tardy ways. Sheís never forgotten my birthday but neither of us has sent a card to the other on time.
We take comfort in being late.
I love that the best things Iíve written turn into absolute word gravy when I reread them.
Itís my understanding that this isnít an uncommon phenomenon. My pastor describes writing the greatest Easter sermon of all time only to discover that he never mentions Jesus.
Itís easy for me to be captured by my own brilliance. Itís easier than admitting I have no fucking clue what Iím doing most of the time. Usually, I am putting one word after the other and since I hate editing, it stays that way.
Iím okay with that. Itís nice to briefly feel genius.
I was walking by myself one day and I took a short cut through a field behind my house. I wanted to go to the bowling alley and play Pac-Man.
I tripped over a rusty manhole cover in the middle of the field. It was blanketed with moss and dead grass. Rust ringed the edges.
I frantically pried away at the cover until my fingers bled. I was near collapse when the lid finally broke free.
I peered down into the deep black hole. The smell of decay floated up. I threw a pebble in and waited for a splash.
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